January 14, 2019 / 4:49 PM / 7 months ago

Nissan CEO calls for Renault board to review Ghosn findings

PARIS (Reuters) - Nissan (7201.T) expects alliance partner Renault’s (RENA.PA) board to back its ousting of Chairman Carlos Ghosn once it sees evidence from the Japanese carmaker’s investigation, Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa said in a Monday newspaper interview.

FILE PHOTO: Nissan President and Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa attends a news conference at its global headquarters building in Yokohama, Japan, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Nissan understands that findings it provided to Renault lawyers more than a month ago have still not been shared in full with the Renault board, Saikawa told France’s Les Echos.

“All that I ask is that the directors of Renault should have access to the full dossier,” Saikawa said. “I think that once that’s the case, they will draw the same conclusions as we did.”

Ghosn’s November arrest in Japan and dismissal by Nissan have deepened tensions with its French parent Renault - which has so far maintained Ghosn in office as chairman and CEO, citing the presumption of innocence.

A spokesman for Renault, which has said judicial confidentiality requires tight restrictions on access to Nissan’s findings even by its own board members, did not return calls and messages seeking comment.

Ghosn has been charged over allegations that 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 that 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.

Saikawa’s interview was published ahead of an expected court hearing in Japan on Tuesday, at which Ghosn’s lawyers are to present a request for his release on bail.

The French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, will support the decision to keep Ghosn at its helm unless it becomes clear he will be “chronically incapacitated” by the Japanese investigation, officials said on Monday.

Tuesday is likely to see “important developments” in relation to that question, one French official said.

OLIVE BRANCH

Saikawa extended an olive branch to Renault and its state shareholder, while also dismissing French speculation that the scandal had been engineered by Nissan to oust Ghosn and end Renault’s control.

“It’s absurd and I don’t understand how anyone can believe such a scenario for a second,” he said. “Look at the evidence; it’s serious.”

While the presumption of innocence must be observed in criminal matters, Saikawa added, the Nissan board’s unanimous decision to dismiss Ghosn was grounded in ethical considerations and “the facts brought to light”.

Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, whose reciprocal 15 percent holding in the French carmaker carries no voting rights.

FILE PHOTO - Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, attends the Tomorrow In Motion event on the eve of press day at the Paris Auto Show in Paris, France, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Picture

Saikawa also appeared to soften his own earlier calls for changes to guarantee Nissan more autonomy and potentially restore its voting rights - which had rung alarm bells in Paris.

While investors do want to see the alliance structure evolve, Saikawa said, “that is really not the current priority.”

“The important thing today is to stabilize things and work together trustingly - not to know whether Nissan should have voting rights in Renault,” he added in the interview.

Reporting by Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume; editing by John Irish and Alexander Smith

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