TOKYO – Nissan and alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi are poised to restructure their partnership under a new three-way steering committee that would oversee operations and subsume joint ventures now under scrutiny following the arrest of former boss Carlos Ghosn.
Meanwhile, a Tokyo court rejected a request by Ghosn to attend Nissan’s next board meeting. Ghosn was ousted as chairman from all three automakers but still holds a seat on their boards.
Alliance heads will hold a joint press conference March 12 at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama to talk about the future direction of the partnership. Renault CEO Thierry Bollore, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko will attend.
Among the looming changes, the leaders of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi plan to form a new committee to handle alliance strategy, a person familiar with the matter said March 11.
Renault issued a statement confirming that it was in discussions with Nissan and Mitsubishi “regarding the establishment of a new Alliance body in order to enhance and ensure further collaboration.” It said the proposed arrangement would not impact the will have no impact on the existence of the Revised Alliance Master Agreement that outlines relations between the companies nor the cross-shareholding structure. Both will both remain in place, Renault said.
The French carmaker said any agreement must be still be approved by its board.
The goal is to counter a concentration of power in one person, as critics say happened under Ghosn. The committee would oversee alliance activities, including those of joint-venture subsidiaries and other operations from purchasing to r&d, the person said. Initial members will likely include Bollore, Saikawa, Masuko and Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard.
Since the Nov. 19 arrest of Ghosn, the three alliance partners have been conducting regular alliance operational meetings in a similar three-party format.
Separately, Nissan and Mitsubishi are moving to disband Nissan-Mitsubishi BV, or NMBV, a joint venture the companies established in the Netherlands to promote synergies.
The companies are moving to remove Ghosn as chairman of that entity and disband it because he company didn’t fulfill its intended purpose, a person familiar with that matter said.
Nissan and Mitsubishi announced in January that Ghosn received about 7.82 million euros ($8.9 million) in allegedly improper compensation last year from NMBV. NMBV was established as a 50-50 venture to reward employees who find synergies by giving them a share of the savings. But Nissan and Mitsubishi claim Ghosn used the entity to authorize large payouts to himself.
The $8.9 million, which included a signing bonus and a salary, was allegedly paid without knowledge or the required consultation of the unit’s other board members, Masuko and Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa. Neither of those men received any payment from NMBV, Nissan said.
In a related move, Nissan and Renault are considering scaling back the profile of their 50-50 Netherlands-based joint venture, Renault-Nissan BV, or RNBV, the person said.
The intent, he said, is to give RNBV a secondary function and bring it under closer oversight. Japan’s Kyodo News agency said the companies aimed to shut down that entity as well.
Renault and Nissan launched an investigation of RNBV last month, following the indictment of Ghosn in Japan on three charges of alleged financial misconduct at Nissan.
The probe of RNBV was expected to be completed by mid-March.
Ghosn meanwhile sought permission to attend a March 12 board meeting at Nissan, his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka told reporters in Tokyo.
Hironaka said Ghosn wants to fulfill his obligation as a board member by attending.
The request raised the awkward scenario of the high-profile Ghosn barging his way back into the building to stage a boardroom battle. Ghosn technically has a right to attend such a meeting, because –although he was removed as chairman in November – he still holds a seat as a director.
Under the terms of Ghosn’s bail, he may attend board meetings with court approval.
But another condition of Ghosn's bail release last week prohibits him from direct contact with anyone involved with the indictments against him. That includes Nissan management.
The Tokyo District Court later rejected Ghosn’s request, taking into consideration multi-page briefs from prosecutors and Nissan opposing Ghosn’s participation.
Hironaka said he was considering an appeal.
Nissan has called an April 8 extraordinary shareholders meeting for the express purpose of having shareholders vote Ghosn off the board. Until they do so, Ghosn can keep his seat.
Ghosn and his lawyers are still contemplating when to hold their first press conference, Hironaka added. Ghosn may face the press as early as this week, he said.
Greg Kelly, the American Nissan director who is charged as Ghosn’s alleged co-conspirator, has not requested court approval to attend the March 12 board meeting, his lawyer said.
Ghosn and Kelly deny any wrongdoing.
Naoto Okamura contributed to this report