Nissan meets to replace Ghosn, as tensions with Renault grow

Automaker Nissan removed Carlos Ghosn as chairman last month after he was detained on allegations of under-reporting his salary.
Automaker Nissan removed Carlos Ghosn as chairman last month after he was detained on allegations of under-reporting his salary.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - The board of automaker Nissan is meeting on Monday (Dec 17) to discuss replacing former chairman Carlos Ghosn after his arrest for financial misconduct, as tensions grow in the firm's alliance with Renault.

The Japanese company removed Ghosn from his post last month after he was detained on allegations of under-reporting his salary.

But it appears unlikely to agree on Monday on a permanent replacement for him, in part because of open discord in its alliance with French automaker Renault.

Nissan itself faces charges for allegedly submitting financial documents that understated Ghosn's pay, and Renault is now reportedly seeking more sway on the Japanese firm's board.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Renault urged Nissan in a letter to hold a shareholders meeting to discuss Renault's representation on the firm's nine-member board and within its top management.

It warned that Nissan's indictment "creates significant risks to Renault, as Nissan's largest shareholder, and to the stability of our industrial alliance", the Journal reported.

A source with knowledge of the issue confirmed that Nissan had received the letter and was planning an extraordinary shareholders' meeting in January.

Renault's letter is the latest sign of the tensions in the alliance that groups the firm with Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors - a partnership that Ghosn forged and was often credited with holding together.

While Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors quickly removed Ghosn from leadership positions after his arrest, Renault has kept the auto executive on as chief executive officer and chairman.

 
 
 

And while Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa launched a broadside against his former mentor shortly after his arrest, describing his "dark side", Renault has approached the allegations more cautiously.

The decision on replacing Ghosn at Nissan is being led by an advisory committee that includes a former Renault executive, and Japanese media reports suggested it was unlikely to reach a decision on Monday.

"It slows things down, but it isn't the end of the world," a source close to the issue told AFP.

"We need to let them talk and decide properly. That's more important than rushing."

The company is instead likely to announce new governance measures intended to address criticism that it failed to prevent Ghosn's alleged misconduct.

Reversal of fortune

As his former employer wrangles over his replacement, Ghosn remains in the one-man cell at a Tokyo detention centre he has occupied since his shock arrest on Nov 19.

Prosecutors have already charged him with under-reporting his pay by around US$44 million (S$60.5 million) over the five years to 2015, and are also investigating claims that he under-reported it further in the last three years.

He will be detained until at least Thursday, when prosecutors will either file new charges or request another 10-day detention period while they continue investigations.

A range of additional claims of financial misconduct have been made against Ghosn, including using Nissan funds to purchase homes around the world, though prosecutors have yet to level those accusations formally.

He and his former right-hand man Greg Kelly, who is also under arrest, reportedly deny any wrongdoing.

The charges have sparked a legal battle over Ghosn's flat in Rio de Janeiro, with Nissan trying to prevent his family members from accessing the property and removing items.

A Brazilian court authorised relatives to access the apartment, despite claims from Nissan that they were removing corporate documents.

Ghosn's arrest marked a stunning reversal of fortune for the Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese tycoon, once revered in Japan for effectively rescuing Nissan from insolvency.

He helped engineer the alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, creating a partnership that sold more cars than any other globally last year.