Renault-Nissan Finances Draw Scrutiny in Ghosn Scandal: Documents

December 19, 2018 Updated: December 19, 2018

PARIS/TOKYO—Renault-Nissan executives including the French carmaker’s general secretary Mouna Sepehri worked on an abortive 2010 plan to pay out part of Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s Nissan compensation through the companies’ Dutch holding Renault-Nissan BV (RNBV), according to documents seen by Reuters.

Ghosn’s undisclosed Nissan income is at the center of allegations by Tokyo prosecutors against the alliance’s boss, who has been charged in Japan with failing to declare $43 million in compensation for the years 2010-15 that he had arranged to be paid later.

Renault declined to make Sepehri available for comment on the proposed scheme.

Ghosn and Greg Kelly, his fellow Nissan director and alleged accomplice, are still in custody and have had little opportunity to defend themselves in public. Ghosn, who remains Renault’s chairman and chief executive, denies that the pay deals broke any laws, his Japanese lawyer has told other media.

In an April 22, 2010 email to Sepehri and one other recipient, Kelly wrote: “I greatly appreciate the work you have done to analyze whether part of the CEO’s compensation can be paid by RNBV without disclosing it publicly.”

In a written response to Reuters, Renault said Kelly had “consulted several people at Renault and Nissan to establish whether it was legally possible that part of the CEO’s compensation be paid by RNBV to reflect the time he spent working on alliance synergies.”

In 2017, as Ghosn’s deferred-income IOUs were piling up, Renault-Nissan bankers developed plans to channel millions of euros in additional, undisclosed bonuses to Ghosn and other alliance managers via a Dutch service company.

Among executives included in emails and meetings on the bonus plan were Renault deputy CEO Thierry Bollore and Sepehri, as well as Hiroto Saikawa, now Nissan’s CEO, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Renault said its executives had not led the project, but confirmed that financial adviser Ardea Partners, which drew it up, had held “exchanges with some Renault and Nissan executives, including Mr Saikawa, Mr Bollore and Ms Sepehri.”

A June 13 Reuters report revealing the plan was denied by Ghosn at Renault’s shareholder meeting two days later. The plan was dropped soon after that, invoices and emails show.

The companies declined to make any of the executives available for comment.

Nissan, which is pressing Renault for a joint investigation of alliance finances, also wants to re-examine a recent decision to create a new alliance foundation in Switzerland.

In a Sept. 26 resolution, the Renault-Nissan board signed off on a 30 million-euro ($34 million) transfer to the organization, documents show. But the transfer was canceled after Ghosn’s Nov. 19 arrest in Japan, two sources said.

By Laurence Frost & Ritsuko Ando

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