Business / Corporate

Directors meet to decide who will fill Carlos Ghosn’s shoes as Nissan chairman

Bloomberg, Kyodo, Reuters

Nissan Motor Co.’s independent board members met Tuesday to discuss who should succeed Carlos Ghosn as chairman. Their choice to replace the ousted car titan, now languishing in Tokyo Detention House, will indicate the direction the automaker’s alliance with Renault SA will take.

The most likely successors fall on each end of the spectrum: President and Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa, who has emerged as a driving force behind the investigation into Ghosn’s financial reporting, and Toshiyuki Shiga, a former Ghosn confidant, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The external directors have already said they will choose an existing board member as the next chairman. Nissan’s board is due to vote on their choice Dec. 17.

At stake is the direction of the world’s biggest car alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., as differences surface among the companies that Ghosn’s leadership held together.

The embattled executive, who was arrested Nov. 19 in Tokyo on allegations by Nissan of underreporting his income and misusing company money for personal use, will likely be served with a fresh arrest warrant next week as prosecutors add a new claim, sources familiar with the investigation said.

Saikawa’s ascendance to the position of chairman would solidify his power at Nissan, which wants to push for a more equitable partnership with Renault in their alliance after Ghosn’s ouster. The balance of power at Nissan is now tilted toward Saikawa, who has turned from a former Ghosn protege into one of the most vocal critics of his alleged wrongdoing.

Shiga’s selection would likely result in more collective management of Nissan.

Renault is the largest shareholder of Nissan and has voting rights in the company. Nissan is the second-largest shareholder in the French company but has no power to vote. That has created an imbalance that has worsened over the years with Nissan’s success in markets like China and the U.S., where the French carmaker is absent.

Nissan has rejected external chairman candidates suggested by Renault, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

A Nissan representative declined to comment on the directors’ meeting and the chairman candidates.

Ghosn was dismissed as chairman of Nissan on Nov. 22 in a stunning downfall for the jet-setting executive. While Mitsubishi Motors also ousted Ghosn, Renault refused to remove the 64-year-old as CEO, and instead named an interim leader.

Meanwhile, Tokyo prosecutors plan to arrest Ghosn on a fresh claim of understating his income, the Sankei Shimbun reported Tuesday, in a move that could keep him in detention until the end of the month.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said prosecutors plan to arrest Ghosn and Kelly next Monday for the same crime covering the period from 2015 to 2017, during which the suspects allegedly understated Ghosn’s income by about ¥4 billion.

If authorities approve the maximum detention for that case, Ghosn and Kelly would remain in custody until Dec. 30, the paper said.

The prosecutors’ office declined to comment on the report.