Business / Corporate

Nissan sources link latest Ghosn allegations to Khaled Al-Juffali, vice chairman of one of Saudi Arabia's largest conglomerates

by Norihiko Shirouzu

Reuters

Sources with knowledge of Nissan Motor Co.’s probe into its former Chairman Carlos Ghosn have said that an individual involved in fresh misconduct allegations against Ghosn is Khaled Al-Juffali, vice chairman of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest conglomerates and a member of the board at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority.

The latest allegations, brought last week by Tokyo prosecutors, center on use of company funds to pay a Saudi businessman unnamed in the prosecutor’s statement who is believed to have helped the ousted Nissan chairman out of financial difficulties, two company sources with knowledge of the matter have said.

Prosecutors arrested Ghosn for a third time on Friday, accusing him of aggravated breach of trust in transferring personal investment losses to the automaker. The prosecutors’ statement said they believed that around October 2008, Ghosn was trying to deal with losses on paper of ¥1.85 billion ($16.6 million) incurred on a swap contract he held with a bank, which was not named.

A person had helped arrange a letter of credit for Ghosn, and a company run by that person later received $14.7 million in Nissan funds in four installments between 2009 and 2012, the statement said, adding that the payments were made in Ghosn’s and the person’s interests. “By doing so, (Ghosn) behaved in a way that breached trust, and inflicted damage on the property of Nissan,” the statement said. The statement also said Ghosn had earlier sought to have Nissan shoulder the appraisal losses directly.

Khaled Al-Juffali is vice chairman of conglomerate E.A. Juffali and Brothers, and is also the majority owner of a company called Al-Dahana that owns half of a regional joint venture called Nissan Gulf. The other half of Nissan Gulf is held by a wholly owned unit of Nissan Motor.

An emailed statement from E.A. Juffali and Brothers stated that Sheikh Khaled Juffali had no comment on this subject.

Ghosn’s Tokyo-based lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, was unavailable for comment on this article, according to a person who answered the phone at his law office. A representative for the Ghosn family declined to comment.

Other media reports have said that Ghosn has, through a lawyer, denied shifting losses to Nissan and has told investigators that the four payments identified were for legitimate business purposes — including a reward for handling problems at Nissan dealers in Saudi Arabia.

Tokyo prosecutors also declined to comment. Asked about Ghosn’s reported comments, a Nissan spokesman said: “We cannot comment on matters related to Ghosn’s arrest for breach of trust. Nissan’s own investigation is ongoing, and its scope continues to broaden.”

Ghosn’s re-arrest — the latest twist in a saga that has jolted Nissan’ alliance with France’s Renault SA — came a day after a Tokyo court unexpectedly rejected a request from prosecutors to extend Ghosn’s detention.

Unlike his previous arrests on allegations of under-reporting his compensation, which he faced together with former representative director Greg Kelly, prosecutors have levelled these latest accusations only at Ghosn.

The Nissan sources with knowledge of the matter said the automaker’s investigators have concluded that Ghosn was unsuccessful in his attempt to have Nissan shoulder the losses directly. Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission had at some stage flagged Ghosn’s attempt to have Nissan directly shoulder the losses as illegal, one of the sources said. It was not immediately clear what the SESC deemed illegal. A SESC spokesman said he could not comment on specific cases. The sources declined to be identified as the results of Nissan’s internal investigation have not yet been made public.

It was after this attempt failed that Ghosn then gained help from Al-Juffali, who used his personal assets to provide collateral for a bank to issue a letter of credit required from Ghosn by Tokyo-based Shinsei Bank, the sources said. A spokesman for Shinsei said he could not comment on specific cases. Reuters was not able to determine the identity of the bank that issued the letter of credit.

The four payments arranged by Ghosn were made through a Nissan internal discretionary fund, known within the company as the ‘CEO Reserve’, to a Nissan unit that then paid a company owned by Al-Juffali, one of the sources said, without specifying the names of the companies. The first payment of $3 million was made in fiscal 2009, followed by payments of $3.6 million, $3.9 million and $4.2 million in the three subsequent years, the sources added.

The sources said the Nissan investigators had not initially been looking at the transactions with the urgency prosecutors displayed last week. “Prosecutors know more about this than we do,” one of the sources said.

E.A. Juffali and Brothers was founded in 1946. The company set up electric power supply and telecommunications to some of Saudi Arabia’s major cities and expanded into construction, insurance, vehicle manufacturing and distribution.

Established in October 2008, the Nissan Gulf joint venture was originally responsible for Nissan’s marketing and sales strategy and dealer development in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Bahrain, according to the sources. But the scope of the business has since been reduced to Kuwait and Bahrain for reasons that weren’t immediately clear, one of the sources said.

Kelly was released on bail late on Christmas Day, but Ghosn remains in detention. After the latest allegations, prosecutors were granted permission on Dec. 23 to hold him for 10 days, and are expected to ask for another 10 days. Such requests are usually approved.

Japanese prosecutors often arrest individuals repeatedly on different allegations linked to the same case. The practice allows them to hold suspects while they pursue their investigation, and also means they can continue interrogations without the presence of a lawyer.