By Naomi Tajitsu
YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Nissan Motor’s CEO called on directors at alliance partner Renault to heed its reasons for sacking former Chairman Carlos Ghosn over alleged financial misconduct amid tensions over how to handle the fallout from his arrest.
Renault’s interim chairman Philippe Lagayette said on Friday that its board had not considered replacing Ghosn, who was ousted by Nissan days after his arrest in Japan in November, as head of the French carmaker.
Ghosn has denied wrongdoing, media reports say, although he has not made any public statements since his arrest.
“We hope the board will listen to our explanation,” Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told reporters after a board meeting of the Japanese carmaker at which it confirmed plans to strengthen corporate governance following the Ghosn crisis.
Although sources familiar with the matter say Nissan has briefed Renault lawyers on its findings relating to Ghosn’s alleged misconduct, Renault directors have yet to be given access to the full information.
“We understand that the raw details of the misconduct have yet to reach each of Renault’s board members,” Saikawa said of the allegations against Nissan’s once-revered boss.
Nissan said it has already shared its findings with the board of Mitsubishi Motors, which is the third, junior member of the carmaking alliance.
While Nissan is almost 60 percent bigger by sales, it remains the junior partner in their shareholding hierarchy to Renault, which owns a 43.4 percent in its Japanese partner.
Nissan has a 15 percent non-voting stake in Renault, whose biggest shareholder is the French state with 15 percent.
“TAKE A SCALPEL”
Ghosn, who was arrested on Nov. 19 by Japanese authorities, was officially charged in a Tokyo court last week and remains in detention. The Japanese automaker was also indicted for its role in the scandal.
Nissan’s board met on Monday after Thierry Bollore, Renault’s deputy CEO, asked Nissan in a Dec. 14 letter to call an extraordinary shareholders meeting, a source said on Sunday.
Saikawa declined to comment on the report.
Nissan said it was establishing a special committee for improving governance, as well as an advisory committee to propose a chairman.
Saikawa said he expected the governance committee would “take a scalpel” to Nissan’s governance team, and that he did not have a deadline for naming a successor to Ghosn.
“We shouldn’t hurry, we should take our time … I will make every effort (to ensure that a new chairman is selected soon), but I will refrain from setting a deadline for this,” he said.
He also brushed off calling a shareholder meeting in the immediate future, saying that he planned to summon shareholders after the board comes up with changes based on recommendations from the special committee, expected in late March.
The board, until last week, had been expected to name an interim chairman on Monday. But a panel of external directors put off their selection, deciding to prioritize measures to improve governance, a source familiar with the matter said.
Critics have said Nissan lacked adequate governance, with few truly independent voices capable of questioning its leadership and looking out for regular shareholders’ interests.
Its three external board members include retired Renault executive Jean-Baptiste Duzan, considered to represent the views of the French automaker. The other two are former bureaucrat Masakazu Toyoda and racing car driver Keiko Ihara.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Additional reporting by Maki Shiraki in TOKYO and Laurence Frost in PARIS; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Alexander Smith)