Renault names Thierry Bollore interim head after Ghosn's arrest

Thierry Bollore (left) was named interim deputy chief executive officer, with the same powers as long-time chief Carlos Ghosn. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - Renault SA named Thierry Bollore to lead the carmaker on an interim basis after Carlos Ghosn's arrest in Japan over allegations of financial impropriety, while declining to dismiss the French company's long-time chief.

Mr Bollore, effectively Ghosn's heir apparent since he was elevated to chief operating officer in February, was named interim deputy chief executive officer, with the same powers as Ghosn, Renault said in a statement late Tuesday (Nov 20) after a board meeting. Philippe Lagayette will remain the lead independent director.

Mr Bollore, 55, a soft-spoken French national from Brittany, joined Renault in 2012 from car-parts supplier Faurecia SA, where he rose through the ranks to become vice president with responsibilities for global industry, quality and packaging. He started his career at tiremaker Michelin, working there for a number of years at the same time as Ghosn, who has called him a "good candidate" to become Renault CEO.

Ghosn stands accused of under-reporting income of about US$44 million and misusing company funds at Nissan Motor Co, where he was also chairman. The developments cast doubt over the future of the long-standing Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, held together by his towering presence. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told Renault board members Monday the company is looking into potential financial wrongdoing at the alliance's Amsterdam-based joint venture RNBV, three people familiar with the matter said.

The Renault board reserved judgment on Ghosn and requested that Nissan hand over all the information in their possession related to the internal investigations. "At this stage, the board is unable to comment on the evidence seemingly gathered against Mr Ghosn by Nissan and the Japanese judicial authorities," the board said in the statement.

The French government, Renault's biggest shareholder, distanced itself from Ghosn in seeking a replacement. Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the 64-year-old executive was "not in a position to run the group," yet stopped short of demanding his ouster. Both Le Maire and his Japanese counterpart, economy minister Hiroshige Seko, reaffirmed their support for the alliance.

Ghosn hasn't commented on the developments.

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Mr Lagayette, 75, has been on Renault's board since 2007, where he leads the audit, risks and ethics committee. He's also a member of the remuneration committee.

Set to leave Renault in 2022, Ghosn had been laying the groundwork to ensure a future for the alliance, including the option of a merger. The setup has come under pressure from Nissan in recent years to address a lopsided balance of power after the Japanese company consistently outgrew Renault in sales and profits. Through complex cross-shareholding arrangements, Renault owns 43 per cent in Nissan, including voting rights, while Nissan owns a 15 per cent non-voting stake in Renault.

In a letter sent to Renault employees on Monday, Mr Bollore expressed full support for Ghosn and pledged to preserve the alliance.

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