TOKYO — Nissan Motor Co.'s top management is again under fire as the company's internal probe of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn's alleged misconduct widens its focus to CEO Hiroto Saikawa.
New revelations claim that Saikawa improperly exercised a stock-linked compensation plan to boost his payout by nearly half-a-million dollars, Japanese media reported last week.
Saikawa acknowledged being overpaid through the system, but said that he neither ordered the payments nor knew about how they were being handled at the time.
"I left it entirely to the secretariat office, so I assumed that it was being handled properly," the CEO told reporters after local media pounced on the story. "This is a part of the Ghosn-era system. The board will consider that, including a plan to change this scheme."
Saikawa said he would return the excess amount to the automaker.
Nissan's internal investigators will share the findings with the board of directors on Monday, Sept. 9, a spokesman said. The report is expected to address how stock appreciation rights were handled.
Other executives also are believed to have inappropriately gamed the incentive system, although doing so is not a breach of law, a person familiar with the matter said.
But the development is another headache for Nissan as it struggles to rekindle bottomed-out earnings, reboot its flailing U.S. business and mend strained ties with its partner Renault. Nissan has been laying off 12,500 workers and trying to reform corporate governance.
The findings could also intensify pressure on Saikawa to step down.
The former Ghosn protege is under pressure from some investors, media commentators and even company insiders to clear the way for new leadership and deliver a clean break from the two-decade-long Ghosn era, in which Saikawa played a prominent management role.
Saikawa, 65, has said the company is preparing a succession plan but hasn't offered a timeline.
The stock appreciation rights compensation method, offered to certain Nissan executives, linked payouts to a certain share value. Saikawa allegedly delayed executing these rights a week past their exercise date to achieve a higher return, Japan's Nikkei newspaper and Kyodo News reported last week.
Junichiro Hironaka, one of Ghosn's lawyers, said Nissan's reaction to Saikawa's situation smacked of a double standard.
"Nissan and the prosecutors have overlooked all the misconduct by President Saikawa," Hironaka told Japan's Asahi newspaper. "It is clearly discrimination against foreigners, and this incident shows that they have singled out Mr. Ghosn as a target."
The allegations were first leveled by former Nissan director Greg Kelly in an interview with Japan's Bungei Shinju magazine published in June. Kelly was arrested with Ghosn on Nov. 19 and charged with conspiring to hide millions of dollars in deferred compensation due to Ghosn, his former boss.
Kelly and Ghosn deny any wrongdoing and are awaiting trial in Japan.
In his interview, Kelly said Saikawa explored getting financial aid from Nissan in 2013 to help him acquire some real estate. Nissan ended up not extending such aid, Kelly said, because Saikawa delayed the execution of his stock appreciation rights and thereby came into enough money.
"By delaying the exercise date by one week, he gained an extra approximately ¥47 million ($440,280), and in total I recall that he made ¥150 million ($1.4 million)," Kelly said.
"Naturally I think it is an exception in an already extraordinary case."