Renault-Nissan leaders to meet amid alliance crisis

TOKYO/PARIS (Reuters) - The head of Nissan and acting CEO of Renault will hold talks during a two day meeting of their carmaking partnership starting on Tuesday, sources said, amid a crisis in relations sparked by the arrest of long-time alliance supremo Carlos Ghosn.

FILE PHOTO: Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance arrives to a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

The meeting between Nissan 7201.T CEO Hiroto Saikawa and Renault RENA.PA deputy CEO Thierry Bollore is their first since Ghosn's Nov. 19 detention over financial misconduct allegations.

Renault, Nissan and alliance spokespeople all declined to comment on the gathering in Amsterdam, beyond confirming that Saikawa would attend. No announcements are planned.

The sit-down comes a day after Saikawa rebuffed Renault’s demand for an early shareholder meeting that would have offered the French carmaker a chance to weigh in on Ghosn’s replacement as Nissan chairman and on other board appointments at its Japanese partner.

Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, whose 15 percent stake in its French parent carries no voting rights. Nissan, in turn, controls Mitsubishi 7211.T via a 34 percent holding.

Ghosn was charged in Japan last week alongside alleged accomplice Greg Kelly and Nissan itself over their failure to declare $43 million in deferred income that Ghosn had arranged to be paid while chairman and CEO of the Japanese firm.

Both men remain in custody and have had limited opportunity to respond to the allegations or defend themselves publicly.

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The scandal has shaken the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, with Saikawa calling for changes to weaken Renault’s control as he moved to oust Ghosn in the week of his arrest.

Saikawa planned to discuss changes in alliance management with Bollore, sources familiar with the matter said - including a new leadership troika in which the three companies would be equal partners. Under current agreements, Renault ultimately controls the alliance board. A meeting last month failed to name an interim leader for the partnership.

The Amsterdam talks could also provide Saikawa with an opportunity to convince Renault executives of the gravity of Ghosn’s alleged misconduct, discovered during an in-house investigation by the Japanese automaker.

Top managers from across the alliance will be present for scheduled monthly operational sessions.

The broader meetings will discuss difficulties that have arisen within some alliance vehicle and powertrain programs since the scandal erupted, one source said.

Renault directors were briefed last week on the Nissan investigation that led to Ghosn’s arrest but reiterated their earlier decision to keep him in office as the French carmaker’s chairman and CEO, while temporarily delegating his executive role to Bollore.

But the Renault board has yet to be given direct access to Nissan’s findings, which are being closely held by Renault lawyers answering to Ghosn’s long-standing chief of staff and head of legal affairs at Renault, Mouna Sepehri.

“We understand that the raw details of the misconduct have yet to reach each of Renault’s board members,” Saikawa said on Monday after Nissan directors rebuffed the shareholder meeting demand. “We hope the board will listen to our explanation.”

Reporting by Maki Shiraki and Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Potter