Business / Corporate

Nissan may invite ex-Keidanran chief Sakakibara to chair meetings, leaving Ghosn's seat unfilled

Reuters, AP

Nissan Motor Co. is considering asking ex-Toray Industries chief and Japan Inc. heavyweight Sadayuki Sakakibara to chair its board meetings while leaving vacant the chairman post previously held by Carlos Ghosn, a source said on Thursday.

Japan’s No. 2 automaker is considering nominating Sakakibara, a former head of the powerful business lobby Keidanren, to become an external director at the general shareholders meeting in June, said the source, who has direct knowledge of the matter.

The person declined to be identified because the decision is not final.

Nissan has tasked an external committee with helping to improve corporate governance after the arrest and ouster of Ghosn, who faces charges of financial misconduct including understating his compensation by about ¥9 billion over nearly a decade. Ghosn has denied the charges.

A spokeswoman for the external committee declined to comment on the possible selection of Sakakibara. A Nissan spokesman declined to comment.

Sakakibara is already a co-chair of that committee, which is due to make recommendations this month on corporate governance including procedures for executive appointments and compensation.

Nissan, along with partners Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, this week announced a major retooling of their alliance through the creation of a three-way board meeting to put themselves on a more equal footing.

Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard would chair the alliance board, but — in a critical sign of the rebalancing — not become chairman of Nissan. Before his arrest in November, Ghosn had been chairman of all three individual companies while also leading the alliance.

Meanwhile, Nissan is sending out notices to shareholders asking them to dismiss Ghosn as a director at an April 8 shareholders meeting, the company said Wednesday.

The notice, signed by Nissan President Hiroto Saikawa, will be sent out Thursday, Nissan said.

The notice says the agenda also includes the election of Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard as a Nissan director, on the condition that Ghosn is ousted.

Although Ghosn has been dismissed as chairman at Nissan, he remains on the board. Shareholders’ approval is needed to remove him from the board.

Nissan is part of an alliance with Renault SA of France, and more recently with Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors, that was largely cobbled together by Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades.

The notice from Nissan says its investigation also found Ghosn used company money for personal expenses.

The notice did not give specifics, but sources familiar with the investigation have pointed to fancy homes in Lebanon and Brazil, as well as expensive furnishings such as a chandelier.

The date for his trial has not been set. In Japan, preparations can take months. He was released on ¥1 billion bail last week.

It is unclear whether he will try to attend next month’s shareholders meeting.

Ghosn owns more than 3 million Nissan shares, or somewhat less than 0.1 percent of total shares, according to the most recent disclosure.

Senard appeared with Saikawa at Tuesday’s board meeting at Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters to drive home the message that the French-Japanese auto alliance remains strong.

Also on the shareholders’ agenda is the dismissal of Greg Kelly, a director who was arrested with Ghosn and accused of working with Ghosn in the alleged misconduct.