By DAVID JOLLY
Published: January 11, 2012
PARIS — The grandchildren of the founder of the French automaker Renault were stymied Wednesday in a bid to overturn the post-World War II nationalization of the car company, when a French court said it lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.
Louis-Marie de Roux, a lawyer representing the Renault family, said the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris had ruled that it was not the competent authority to hear the case, and that it should instead be heard by an administrative court.
“This was a procedural decision,” Mr. de Roux said, adding: “It is very probable that the family will appeal in the coming weeks.”
Louis Renault was one of the leading industrialists of his time, applying techniques learned from Henry Ford to build his car company into one of Europe’s largest. But when France was overrun by the German Army in 1940, the company ended up as a supplier to Hitler’s war machine.
The automaker’s heirs, who say their grandfather had no choice but to go along with the Germans, are seeking to take advantage of a law introduced in 2010 that allows individuals to challenge the constitutionality of government actions in the courts. While they said they were seeking a restoration of the family’s honor, rather than financial gain, a lawyer representing them said last year that they stood to win damages from the state of more than €100 million, or $127 million, if they could successfully sue.
Mr. Renault was imprisoned as a collaborator after Paris was liberated and died in prison on Oct. 24, 1944; the circumstances are disputed. Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s provisional government nationalized Renault on Jan. 16, 1945, without having ever convicted Mr. Renault or the company of any crime, and no compensation was paid. The family argues that made the confiscation unconstitutional.
Renault S.A., the automaker, is not a party to the case. Today, it is held mainly by private investors, though the state retains a 15 percent stake.
A version of this article appeared in print on January 12, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.
Lien vers l’article du New-York Times/International Herald Tribune.