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By Reuters

PARIS - French carmaker Renault said fraud investigators had searched three of its factories in an emissions probe but found "no evidence of a defeat device equipping Renault vehicles."

News of the searches nonetheless wiped billions off Renault’s market value, with shares plunging as much as 22 percent, in an echo of the scandal engulfing German rival Volkswagen.

Flags with the Renault logo fly in front of the French automaker's headquarters on Thursday in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.Chesnot / Getty Images

The term “defeat devices” refers to software that VW has admitted using in diesel vehicles to cheat on emissions testing in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In a statement, Renault said fraud investigators were looking at the way it uses exhaust emissions technology in an additional probe of parts and factories that follows an earlier investigation by the French government.

Volkswagen last year admitted to using software to conceal the level of toxic emissions from some of its diesel vehicles in the United States.

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It faces billions of dollars in claims from owners of vehicles with similar software installed around the world.

That has prompted investigations across several countries into Volkswagen, but also into other automobile manufacturers to ensure they have abided by regulations.

Renault's stock saw some 5 billion euros wiped from its market capitalization in its worst day since they were first listed 1994, according to Reuters data. The shares pulled back from their losses after the statement to stand down 13.78 percent at 7:46 a.m. GMT (2:46 a.m. ET).

A union official said the economy ministry had called a meeting on Thursday afternoon about the issue.

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After shares of other carmakers began to be impacted by the news, rival French group PSA Peugeot Citroen said its offices had not been searched and that emissions tests had indicated no anomalies.

Separately, German automaker Daimler also said the diesel engines that Renault supplies for its Mercedes-Benz brand do not contain defeat devices used to cheat on emissions tests.

"We have no reason to budge from our previous statements. We do not use defeat devices ... Renault has assured us that it also doesn't," a spokesman for Daimler told Reuters on Thursday.

The French finance ministry declined to comment. No one at the energy ministry was immediately available to comment.