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Nissan bolsters taskforce to prepare for Ghosn broadsides - sources

TOKYO (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co has strengthened a taskforce of senior officials ahead of an expected onslaught of criticism from former chairman Carlos Ghosn following his dramatic escape from house arrest in Japan, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Nissan logo is seen in Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo, Japan October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/Files

Ghosn, who fled Japan to his home in Lebanon late last month, has said he will hold a press conference on Wednesday to give his side of the story following his arrest in late 2018 for alleged financial misconduct, which he denies.

He has argued through his lawyers that his arrest was part of a boardroom coup d’état and that top Nissan executives signed off and participated in some of the financial transactions that are now central to the charges against him. Nissan has denied this, and is bracing for more such allegations.

“Now that he has escaped, he can say anything he wants and will keep throwing mud at us until people prove him otherwise,” one company executive told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The more sympathy he gets from the media and general public, the stronger his leverage over the Lebanese government to protect him.”

The Nissan 7201.T taskforce was set up shortly after Ghosn's arrest to deal with "anything Ghosn-related," as one source put it - a testament to the significance of a man who forged the company's alliance with French carmaker Renault RENA.PA and presided over it for almost two decades.

The taskforce is led by Chief Executive Makoto Uchida and has recently been reinforced with the inclusion of former acting CEO Yasuhiro Yamauchi and former senior executive Hitoshi Kawaguchi, the sources said.

Both former executives were previously close allies of Ghosn and while they stepped down in a recent management shake-up they remain employed at Nissan as advisers.

Ghosn’s flight from Japan presents a fresh distraction for Nissan at a time when Uchida and his newly-installed management are trying to turn around a business hit by plunging profits, collapsing sales in the United States and tensions with Renault.

The sources said most members of Nissan’s executive committee were not receiving information from the taskforce to allow them to focus on day-to-day operations and the turnaround.

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Mark Potter