April 3, 2019 / 1:40 PM / 5 months ago

Renault scraps Ghosn's pension as scandal deepens

PARIS (Reuters) - Renault blocked former chief executive Carlos Ghosn’s pension on Wednesday, as the French carmaker said an internal probe had identified “questionable and concealed practices” by the fallen auto industry hero.

FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn sits inside a car as he leaves his lawyer's office after being released on bail from Tokyo Detention House, in Tokyo, Japan, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Renault, which had initially questioned alliance partner Nissan’s accusations against Ghosn following his November arrest, also confirmed it had alerted prosecutors over suspect payments to a Middle Eastern distributor.

Ghosn is awaiting trial in Japan on charges that he failed to report $82 million in Nissan pay he had arranged to receive after retirement. He has also been indicted for temporarily transferring personal investment losses to Nissan and steering $14.7 million in company funds to a Saudi business associate.

The former Renault-Nissan boss has denied any wrongdoing.

Renault contacted French prosecutors late last week after uncovering millions of euros in payments described as dealer incentives to Omani distributor Suhail Bahwan Automobile (SBA), sources close to the company earlier told Reuters.

The file sent to prosecutors shows that much of the cash was then channeled to a Lebanese company controlled by Ghosn associates, the sources said. Nissan previously found that its own regional subsidiary made questionable payments of more than $30 million to SBA.

Renault said on Wednesday it had “informed the French judicial authorities of potential issues concerning payments made to one of Renault’s distributors in the Middle East.”

An internal investigation found “questionable and concealed practices and violations of the group’s ethical principles”, the company added. Its joint audit with 43.4 percent-owned partner Nissan is due to report final conclusions by the end of April.

Ghosn, credited with having revived both Renault and Nissan, was sacked by the Japanese firm within days of his arrest and was forced out as Renault chairman and CEO in January. In his resignation letter, he also notified the board that he was entitled to his pension, a person close to the company said.

“But his lawyers got it wrong,” the source said after a board meeting on Wednesday.

Ghosn’s resignation means he “is not entitled to any pension” from his defined-benefit plan worth 765,000 euros ($859,000) annually for life, Renault announced.

The company also recommended that shareholders block 224,000 euros in Ghosn’s variable pay for 2018, and approved governance changes reducing the size of the board to 18 members from 20 after he formally exits as a director in June.

Renault previously axed Ghosn’s 30 million euros in deferred and severance pay in the wake of his indictment.

The 65-year-old promised on Wednesday to “tell the truth” at a news conference next week, taking to Twitter to announce his first briefing since being released on bail.

Former Daimler executive Annette Winkler will join the board to replace Cherie Blair, the wife of British former prime minister Tony Blair, Renault said. She and director Philippe Lagayette are both stepping down in June.

Reporting by Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter

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