Renault board meets after arrest of CEO Ghosn in Japan
Renault Group CEO Carlos Ghosn gestures as he speaks during a media conference at La Defense business district, outside Paris, France, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Mari Yamaguchi and Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, November 20, 2018 12:44AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 20, 2018 2:15PM EST
PARIS -- Renault's board of directors was holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to consider its next moves after its CEO Carlos Ghosn was detained in Japan amid allegations he misused assets of partner Nissan Motor Co. and under-reported millions of dollars in income.
Japanese prosecutors were considering Tuesday whether to file formal charges against Ghosn, Nissan's chairman.
The arrest of Ghosn after a whistleblower disclosed the alleged misconduct stunned many in Japan and France, where for years he's been a superstar among industrialists, known as a relentless cost-cutter and innovator -- but who appears to have spent lavishly on himself.
Japanese prosecutors said they were holding Ghosn, 64, for allegedly collaborating to falsify securities statements and underreport $44.6 million in income from 2011 to 2015. A second Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, was also suspected of collaborating with him.
Ghosn runs Renault, Nissan and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance that he helped turn into the world's biggest car-seller last year, and both France and Japan want to keep it intact.
In France, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said authorities have examined Ghosn's tax situation in France but have found no wrongdoing.
Still, Le Maire said Tuesday he wants Ghosn replaced while he faces accusations in Japan. But he and Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko said in a joint statement that the alliance is "one of the greatest symbols of Franco-Japanese industrial co-operation."
They expressed "their shared wish to maintain this winning co-operation."
Le Maire told broadcaster France-Info that Ghosn is not in a position to lead the Renault Group because of the accusations. He urged the board to name a temporary leadership instead. France holds 15 per cent of Renault.
"It's extremely regrettable," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. "We will watch developments closely."
There was no word from Ghosn himself. Prosecutors have refused to say where he was being held.
The prosecutors, who reportedly arrested Ghosn after questioning him upon his arrival by private jet at Tokyo's Haneda airport, have 48 hours from the time of Ghosn's arrest Monday to decide whether to press charges. They can hold a suspect for up to 20 more days per charge if they decide they need more time.
The scandal has thrown into question Ghosn's future as leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which sold 10.6 million cars last year, more than any other manufacturer.
Nissan's board was due to meet Thursday to consider dismissing Ghosn and Kelly. Earlier this year, Ghosn signed a contract that would have run through 2022.
Ghosn officially still leads the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as CEO and chairman.
Of French, Brazilian and Lebanese background, Ghosn also is a towering corporate figure in France, where Renault is one of the heavyweight industrial survivors. He has met repeatedly with the past four French presidents; no major economic event in France was held without Ghosn.
Ghosn's Lebanese heritage is a source of pride in Lebanon, and in Beirut the foreign minister, Gibran Bassil, issued a statement saying the Lebanese ambassador to Tokyo was told to look out for "the model of Lebanese success abroad."
He said the Lebanese Foreign Ministry would stand by Ghosn to ensure he gets a fair trial.
In Japan, where foreign executives are scarce and even the biggest corporate bigwigs tend to keep a low profile, Ghosn's status is more ambiguous.
He is admired for driving a turnaround at Nissan when it was near bankruptcy and for his foresight in pushing to bring electric and autonomous cars to the masses.
But in a 90-minute news conference late Monday night, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said Ghosn had too much power and the company was overdue for some change.
The scandal was a "negative outcome of the long regime of Mr. Ghosn," he said.
With few new developments, Japanese media were avidly detailing allegations against Ghosn.
Public broadcaster NHK said Ghosn was in charge of allocating pay among Nissan's top executives and is suspected of siphoning off some of that remuneration.
He also is suspected of underpaying his share of the rent and misusing company funds on his company-issued housing in Lebanon, Paris, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro, where his apartment is on the wealthy Copacabana beach strip.
Ghosn's compensation from Nissan, generous by Japanese standards, was only part of his overall income since he also was paid salaries by the automaker's alliance partners Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motor Corp.
Repeatedly questioned over how the company could have let financial misconduct persist for so long, Saikawa said systems inside Nissan limited transparency.
The allegations are a serious blow at a time when Nissan and Mitsubishi are still recovering from scandals over altered results of emissions and fuel economy tests on vehicles sold in Japan.
Ganley reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Haruka Nuga, Angela Charlton in Paris and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.