Renault pressed over executive compensation paid via Dutch holding company

Corporate governance inside the Renault-Nissan alliance has come under scrutiny

A one-time titan of the auto industry, Carlos Ghosn is indicted on suspicion of violating Japan’s financial reporting laws. File photograph: Michel Euler/AP

A one-time titan of the auto industry, Carlos Ghosn is indicted on suspicion of violating Japan’s financial reporting laws. File photograph: Michel Euler/AP

 

The French government has told Renault to provide more details on compensation paid to senior executives via a Dutch holding company jointly owned with alliance partner Nissan, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday.

Le Maire made the demand after France’s CGT trade Union voiced concerns over payments made to certain high-ranking executives via the alliance’s Renault-Nissan BV (RNBV) Dutch venture and called for more transparency at the carmaker.

Corporate governance inside the alliance has come under tight scrutiny after Japanese authorities arrested its chairman Carlos Ghosn in mid November on suspicion of under-reporting his income at Nissan. The French state is Renault’s biggest shareholder.

Mr Ghosn, who is indicted on suspicion of violating Japan’s financial reporting laws, will mount a “vigorous defense” at his first hearing this week, his son, Anthony, told France’s Journal Du Dimanche in an interview.

Mr Ghosn will attend a hearing of the Tokyo district court Tuesday after his legal team requested an explanation of why his detention has been repeatedly extended since he was taken into custody November 19th.

Accusation

“Everyone will be pretty surprised to hear his version of the story,” Anthony Ghosn told the newspaper. “Until now, we have only heard the accusation.”

Anthony Ghosn said his father faces a paradox: confess to crimes of which he is innocent or remain in detention. It is quite common for prosecutors to keep people in detention for months or even years, he said.

“When the only condition for his release is a confession, you want to find a solution to end this nightmare,” Anthony Ghosn told the newspaper.

Mr Le Maire told CNews television that the government had written to Renault’s leadership to “request all details necessary for full transparency on these compensation payments”.

“I want to know who these payments were made to, if they were declared and therefore whether ... the Renault board was aware of them.”

A Renault spokesman did not immediately return calls and messages seeking comment.

A one-time titan of the auto industry, Mr Ghosn, who has since been ousted as Nissan chairman, is also accused of aggravated breach of trust in transferring personal investment losses to Nissan. Mr Ghosn denies all the charges against him.

Restrictions

Renault board members including the French state’s representatives have yet to be given full access to Nissan’s findings against Mr Ghosn, which have been shared with Renault’s lawyers. The restrictions are justified by judicial confidentiality, the company has said.

Executives from both carmakers – including Renault general secretary Mouna Sepehri, who oversees communications with the board – had looked at least twice at legal ways to pay Mr Ghosn undisclosed income through RNBV or other shared finances, Reuters revealed last month.

Those two efforts were ultimately abandoned. Immediately after Mr Ghosn’s November 19th arrest, however, Nissan told Renault privately it was extending its internal investigation to cover their Dutch-registered alliance holdings.

Separately, Mr Le Maire said his government isn’t demanding Mr Ghosn’s departure as chairman of Renault, which has an alliance with Nissan, as it still has no evidence of his alleged wrongdoing. “There is a presumption of innocence. I have nothing in hand that lets me demand Ghosn’s departure,” Mr Le Maire said on French radio Europe1. – Reuters and Bloomberg