January 16, 2019 / 7:23 PM / 9 months ago

French government calls for Renault board meeting to replace Ghosn

PARIS (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Wednesday the government had requested a Renault (RENA.PA) board meeting in coming days to replace the company’s scandal-hit Chairman and Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn.

FILE PHOTO: French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The company needs a change of governance, Le Maire said in an interview with French TV station LCI, confirming an earlier Reuters report that France wanted a new Renault leadership.

“We have to move to a new phase,” the minister said.

The government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, had publicly supported the company’s decision to keep Ghosn in office while he awaits trial in Japan for alleged misconduct at Nissan (7201.T), the French carmaker’s alliance partner which he also chaired until his dismissal in November.

Behind the scenes, however, the state had begun seeking candidates to replace Ghosn in November and December, sources familiar with the matter previously told Reuters.

Renault’s nominations committee is now expected to meet on Jan. 20, a source with knowledge of the matter said, followed by a full board meeting as soon as Monday under the interim chairmanship of Philippe Lagayette.

Headhunter Korn Ferry has been advising Renault management on succession matters, with Emeric Lepoutre & Partners acting for the government.

Ghosn has been charged over allegations he failed to disclose close to $80 million in additional compensation for 2010-18 that he had arranged to be paid later. Nissan director Greg Kelly and the company itself have also been indicted.

Both men deny the deferred pay agreements were illegal or required disclosure, while former alliance boss Ghosn has denied a separate breach of trust charge over personal investment losses he temporarily transferred to Nissan in 2008.

Jean-Dominique Senard, who is soon to step down as CEO of tyre maker Michelin, is likely to replace Ghosn in his chairman role, according to sources.

The French state and its advisers are also considering candidates for the CEO job currently occupied on an interim basis by Ghosn’s deputy Thierry Bollore.

Others under consideration include senior Toyota (7203.T) executive Didier Leroy and Elior (ELIOR.PA) boss Philippe Guillemot, a person involved in the discussion said.

Elior has denied Guillemot was a candidate, but acknowledged he may have been considered.

Le Maire endorsed Senard as a “great industrialist” when asked about his potential candidacy.

The move to replace Ghosn follows a Tokyo court decision to deny his request for release on bail, increasing the likelihood he will remain in jail for months.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said in an interview on Monday he expected Renault to back the Japanese carmaker’s ouster of Ghosn when its board of directors were finally given full access to the findings of its internal investigation.

Reporting by Laurence Frost, Inti Landauro and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Sarah White and Edmund Blair

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