Greg Kelly, the American businessman and former Nissan board member that was arrested with ex-chairman Carlos Ghosn almost two years ago, has pleaded not guilty to the financial misconduct charges leveled against him in Japan. While he was supposed to stand trial with Mr. Ghosn, Carlos escaped his captors with the help of at least one U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and a lot of careful planning at the end of 2019. Kelly is accused of helping the former chairman hide millions of dollars in deferred compensation.
During the trial, he defended Ghosn by saying he was an outstanding automotive executive who helped save Nissan in its darkest hour. He also hinted that the firm should have done everything in its power to retain him, adding that his role was to find legal ways of keeping Ghosn from jumping ship to a rival company. While that included financial incentives, Kelly asserted during the trial that Nissan’s attorneys were always consulted before decisions were made and that no illegal actions were taken. “I informed Mr. Ghosn what could be done legally and what could not be done legally,” he told the court. “I believe the evidence will show that I did not violate the [financial] disclosure regulations.”
Carlos Ghosn’s claim that he was the target of an industrial coup is looking a lot more valid this week after emails surfaced showing a high degree of internal organization regarding his ousting and subsequent criminal charges. The former head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance was infamous for wanting further integration within the pact. In fact, his aim was to make sure the tie-up became “irreversible.”
That idea never quite landed for Nissan leadership and Japanese shareholders, with many already holding the view that the alliance had already given French interests too much authority.
Emails dating back nearly one year before Ghosn’s November 2018 arrest clearly indicate top-level management at Nissan had a strong aversion to deepening ties with Renault. While understandable to a large degree, it’s counter to the claim that his removal was strictly about under-reported income and other financial malfeasance that were of particular interest to Tokyo prosecutors. At the very least, some actors at Nissan wanted to make sure the alliance patriarch suffered a massive loss of face while confronting allegations.
Renault’s board of directors met today to decide the fate of CEO Thierry Bolloré. Though we should say ex-CEO, because they fired him.
As the most recent executive to become subject to the management shakeup that’s bent on removing anyone within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance with ties to defamed founder Carlos Ghosn, Bolloré called the board’s decision surprising ( it wasn’t). Speaking with France’s Les Échos, he contended that he was more concerned with the wellbeing of Renault than corporate politics and expressed fears that the alliance could be falling apart as Japan aggressively seeks to remove more Ghosn-era hires.
“I appeal to the highest level of the State shareholder, guarantor of the rules of good governance, not to destabilize Renault, flagship of our French industry,” he said. “This coup is very disturbing, it is very important to understand the ins and outs of what is happening in Japan.”
The French media is reporting that Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré could be removed as part of a greater initiative to clean house within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. As usual, the cornerstone of the controversy stems from the executive’s close ties to Carlos Ghosn.
That relationship makes him suspect, as numerous high-ranking employees at Nissan are currently under suspicion of having helped or benefited from the alleged financial misdeeds surrounding the ousted chairman. In fact, the Japanese automaker had to select a new CEO in short order after information emerged implicating former corporate head Hiroto Saikawa — encouraging his September resignation.
Now there’s a campaign in place to distance the automaker from Ghosn-era hires and legacy staffers with deep links to him. Everyone expects Renault to do the same.
On Tuesday, a subset of Nissan’s board intends to request access to a list of 80 Nissan employees suspected of aiding former Chairman Carlos Ghosn in his alleged financial malfeasance. Assembled by Nissan’s former audit chief, Christina Murray, and company, the document compiles actions taken by staffers believed to have assisted Ghosn directly or attempted to impede the resulting investigations.
Among them is Hari Nada, Nissan’s vice president, who oversees the company’s legal department. Despite being instrumental in Ghosn’s November arrest by acting as a whistleblower to Japanese authorities, along with Toshiaki Onuma, his role as one of the ousted executive’s many confidants has placed him under suspicion — as did his reluctance to recuse himself from the company’s legal affairs.
Nada is now being pressured to resign. However, it’s not clear if this is the result of any actual wrongdoing or an internal power struggle happening inside the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Considering the power vacuum created by Ghosn’s arrest and the swift retirement of ex-CEO Hiroto Saikawa (who also makes the 80-person list), both scenarios seem equally plausible.
While the proposed merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was stymied after the French government refused to sign off on the deal without support from Renault’s Japanese partners, Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has indicated he’s still keen on the idea.
Nissan’s reluctance to endorse the arrangement last June may have queered the deal, but things are evolving. The Japanese automaker has strived to reduce Renault’s influence in the automotive alliance, especially since the November arrest of Carlos Ghosn. Unfortunately for Nissan, ex-CEO Hiroto Saikawa was also caught up in the financial scandal — forcing him to resign. The Japanese automaker is now seeking a permanent replacement while CFO Yasuhiro Yamauchi runs things in the interim.
While it’s unlikely to make Japanese shareholders supportive of French involvement, it does provide an opportunity for Nissan to find a new chief executive who’s a bit more sympathetic to Renault’s desires.
On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Nissan and its former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, are on the hook for $16 million in fines. The SEC alleges that the automaker failed to disclose millions of dollars in compensation that the former Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance chairman was due to receive via a 2004 board decision that allowed him to decide the compensation of high-ranking executives — including himself.
Reports from Bloomberg stipulate that Ghosn and subordinates managed to withhold over $90 million in compensation from shareholders since 2009, with the ousted CEO attempting to put another $50 million away for his retirement allowance.
Nissan is reportedly interested in selling a subsidiary responsible for the distribution of machinery, vehicle parts, and raw materials in an effort to further streamline the troubled company. While no announcement of deal has been made public by the ailing automaker, Bloomberg cited insider sources who claim the company has already invited firms to bid on the entirety of Nissan Trading.
According to those involved, a buyer could be selected as early as October. The sources also stated that the deal’s $1 billion target valuation includes assumed debt.
Ask Japanese media about Hiroto Saikawa’s status at Nissan and they’ll tell you he already has one and a half feet out the door. Following a report Sunday in Japan’s Nikkei, in which Saikawa allegedly told company executives of his plan to resign, the boss man himself admitted it’s true.
Speaking to the media, Saikawa, who was forced into contrition last week over revelations of excess compensation from an equity-linked remuneration scheme, said he wants to head out ASAP. His replacement will already be aware of the great challenges ahead.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa finds himself in hot water after an internal investigation revealed the head of the embattled automaker violated company procedure by taking part in a stock scheme that paid out more than it should have.
Saikawa, like other executives linked to the scheme, apologized and vowed to repay the excess compensation, claiming he assumed the scheme — orchestrated by ousted and jailed former alliance boss Carlos Ghosn — was above board.
Former Renault-Nissan Alliance director Arnaud Deboeuf is leaving Renault to chase sunnier pursuits at French rival PSA. It’s no secret that the relationship between Nissan and Renault has become severely strained, however, Deboeuf’s departure throws more light on how personal issues are impacting the broader business. He effectively blamed Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré for his leaving the alliance.
“Thierry Bolloré told me no one wanted to work with me … and that I could not go to work at Nissan either,” Deboeuf explained in a final letter to his colleges.
On Wednesday, we reported Nissan was preparing a financial report that was presumed to involve quarterly profit falling by around 90 percent — necessitating roughly 10,000 job cuts. At the time, Nissan gave some vague confirmation that the estimates were accurate while halfheartedly attempting to refute them.
However, when the official numbers came out on Thursday, the reality was worse than initially assumed. Nissan reported an almost 99-percent drop in operating profit in the latest quarter, citing falling sales in every major market except China. Rather than 10,000 job cuts, it’ll require 12,500.
Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard could have had a better time at Nissan’s shareholder meeting last week. New details of the event have come to us via Automotive News and they’re helping to showcase just how fractured the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance has become. While returning Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa focused on developing a succession plan for upper management, Senard attempted to appease an angry mob of Japanese shareholders who have absolutely had it with France.
As there was no exit poll for the event, we’ve no idea how many shareholders have it in for la République. But numerous accounts of the event described the situation as chaotic and angry with some international bad blood on full display.
Nissan’s planned corporate governance reforms were teetering on the brink of disaster after alliance partner Renault indicated it might abstain from voting on them. The French automaker’s concerns were varied, focusing primarily on a lack of representation from Europe. But some believed Renault was feeling vengeful after Nissan failed to support a merger proposal with Fiat Chrysler and found the Japanese brand’s push for autonomy unsavory. Fortunately, for Nissan, Renault played ball and the reforms passed.
Hiroto Saikawa will likewise retain his position as CEO, despite previous indications that he would step down and claims that he might be too close to Carlos Ghosn to hold the job. Ultimately, Nissan shareholders voted for his reappointment and he promised to carry them boldly into the future while taking some responsibility for the brand’s recent bout of industrial scandals. However Saikawa’s time with the company may be short lived, as he’s already discussing his replacement.
Two proxy advisory firms have reportedly encouraged shareholders to vote against reappointing Hiroto Saikawa as Nissan’s chief executive. While it’s relatively uncommon to see voting research providers issue such an overt recommendation, it’s not unheard of.
Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) suggested shareholders vote against Saikawa at Nissan’s annual general meeting later this month, citing his closeness to Carlos Ghosn as a liability. According to Reuters, the firm believes the automaker should try to distance itself from the recent past as much as possible.
“When the company needs to break from the past and build a strong board with fresh members, the reelection of Hiroto Saikawa, who has been on the board for 14 years and worked closely with Carlos Ghosn, does not appear appropriate,” ISS said in a Friday research note to investors.