|12 December, 2018

Don't contact our board members, Renault tells Nissan - sources

Nissan offered last week to brief Renault's board about findings on what it considers proof of wrongdoing by Ghosn

The Renault logo is seen on its EZ-PRO concept vehicle at a media preview at Renault's R&D centre in Guyancourt, France, September 13, 2018, ahead of its presentation of the electric self-driving van for urban environments at the Hanover truck show. 0

The Renault logo is seen on its EZ-PRO concept vehicle at a media preview at Renault's R&D centre in Guyancourt, France, September 13, 2018, ahead of its presentation of the electric self-driving van for urban environments at the Hanover truck show. 0

REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

TOKYO/PARIS- Renault told alliance partner Nissan to stop contacting the French company's directors ahead of a Thursday board meeting as the Japanese automaker tried to share evidence of wrongdoing by its ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn, two sources said.

Ever since Ghosn's Nov. 19 arrest in Japan, Renault and the French government, the automaker's biggest shareholder, have demanded to see the findings of a Nissan internal investigation that include allegations of financial misconduct by the 64-year-old executive.

Ghosn was charged on Monday in Japan for failing to declare deferred income he had agreed to receive for the five years ending March 2015. While Nissan fired him as chairman days after his arrest, he remains chairman and CEO of its French partner.

Renault's board meets on Dec. 13, and the findings of Nissan's investigation will be shared at the meeting where Ghosn's future could be also debated, one of the sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The French firm told Nissan not to contact its directors ahead of the meeting, because such contact was outside the agreed channels for communication of the sensitive findings, the source said.

Nissan offered last week to brief Renault's board about findings on what it considers proof of wrongdoing by Ghosn, said a second source who has knowledge of the matter but declined to be identified as it was confidential.

But Renault advised Nissan to brief its lawyers instead, which led to a meeting between the Japanese firm's officials and Renault's legal teams early this week in Paris, the person said.

The Japanese automaker later invited Thierry Bollore, who was named Renault's deputy CEO with the same powers as Ghosn a day after his arrest, as well as board members, to examine the contents of the findings, said the source.

Bollore, though, told Nissan on Tuesday to "refrain from contacting the board", the source said.

The exchange between Renault and Nissan is another example of the testy relationship between the two automakers, despite assurances by executives on both sides to preserve the alliance. The alliance, of which Ghosn has been the driving force, is widely seen as vital for the members' long-term survival.

Board members invited to see the evidence included Martin Vial, who heads the French state shareholdings agency, interim Chairman Philippe Lagayette and independent director Patrick Thomas, the second source said.

A Renault spokesperson declined to comment.

STRONG RESERVATIONS

The French government said on Tuesday it remained unaware of detailed allegations against Ghosn. 

Under French government pressure, Ghosn had been exploring a deeper tie-up or even a full merger between Renault and Nissan, despite strong reservations at the Japanese car maker.

Nissan is 43.4 percent owned by Renault. While almost 60 percent bigger by sales, it remains the junior partner in their shareholding hierarchy with a smaller reciprocal 15 percent non-voting stake in the French firm. Renault’s biggest shareholder is the French state with 15 percent.

Ghosn was indicted on Monday along with Nissan and alleged co-conspirator Greg Kelly for failing to declare $43 million in deferred income he had agreed to receive, in addition to the $44 million he was paid for the five years ending in March 2015. 

French daily Les Echos first reported that Nissan communicated a 400-page dossier on Ghosn's alleged misconduct to Renault via lawyers. The French finance ministry declined to comment.

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando in TOKYO and Laurence Frost in PARIS; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Muralikumar Anantharaman) ((Ritsuko.Ando@reuters.com; +81 3 6441 1743; Reuters Messaging: ritsuko.ando.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))