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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Ghosn should be replaced as Renault CEO, French minister says

Government wants board meeting to choose successor within days

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, left, and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn stand outside a factory in France in this photo from November 2018.   © Reuters

PARIS -- French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has pressed Renault to hold a board meeting in the next few days to choose a successor to Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn, who remains in detention in Japan following his arrest in November.

Appearing on a French TV program, Le Maire said Wednesday that he has consistently argued that the automaker would need new leadership if the CEO were ever unable to fulfill his duties for an extended period.

When asked if this meant Ghosn leaving his post, Le Maire replied yes. The French government owns a 15% stake in Renault.

"The state as a reference shareholder wants a board meeting to be convened in the coming days ... and this board should designate a new, sustainable governance for Renault," he said.

"In this new phase we need ... the guarantee of sustainable governance at the head of Renault," he continued, adding that it was up to the board to decide whether the new chairman or chief executive should also replace Ghosn as head of the alliance with Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors.

Unlike its alliance partners, the French automaker kept Ghosn at the helm even after his arrest. Deputy CEO Thierry Bollore took charge on an interim basis.

But Le Maire on Wednesday expressed hopes for a new, permanent governance team. The company could hold a board meeting as early as Sunday and pick its new leadership, local newspaper Le Figaro reported.

Citing the presumption of innocence, Le Maire has pointed to insufficient evidence as the reason the French government did not demand Ghosn's removal. With Tokyo District Court denying him bail on Tuesday, however, he may not be able to return to France anytime soon.

Nissan President and CEO Hiroto Saikawa told reporters on Thursday that he was unaware of Le Maire's comments.

Public opinion in France is also turning against Ghosn as more alleged incidents of shadowy compensation and spending come to light. The French government appears to have decided to focus on revamping Renault's leadership rather than continuing to protect Ghosn.

Bollore is expected to be the next CEO. Jean-Dominique Senard, CEO of tiremaker Michelin, is likely to be named chairman.

Some French newspapers reported that Toyota Motor Executive Vice President Didier Leroy is among the likely candidates, but an executive at the company dismissed the reports, saying that Leroy is committed to his current position.

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