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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Uncertainty deepens as Nissan and Renault search for Ghosn's successor

Selection of interim chief to be postponed as partners face off

Nissan's board, which includes a former Renault employee, has been unable to agree on a successor for arrested former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.    © Reuters

TOKYO -- Confusion reigns over the naming of Carlos Ghosn's successor at both Nissan Motor and French partner Renault as the two automakers jockey for advantage in a post-Ghosn alliance, with the Japanese company likely delaying a decision scheduled for Monday.

The French automaker decided to keep Ghosn as its chairman at a board meeting Thursday, citing an internal investigation that found no wrongdoing by the chairman. But behind-the-scenes maneuvering is underway, with Reuters reporting that the French government has begun looking for a successor.

The company appointed Thierry Bollore as interim chief on Nov. 20. Paris, however, seeks to maintain Renault's influence on Nissan by quickly appointing a new CEO.

The French government is reportedly considering Toyota Motor Executive Vice President Didier Leroy, a French native and former Renault employee, as a candidate to replace Ghosn. Toyota has said it cannot comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, Nissan's talks with Renault to fill its chairmanship vacated by Ghosn will likely become protracted. Three independent directors have been put in charge of selecting candidates for the position: former economy ministry official Masakazu Toyoda, race car driver Keiko Ihara and Renault alumnus Jean-Baptiste Duzan. The Japanese automaker had planned to have CEO Hiroto Saikawa double as interim chairman, but Duzan seems to be against the idea.

The board was supposed to pick an interim chairman Monday from a slate of candidates chosen by the trio, who are also tasked with drafting plans for setting up a committee to strengthen corporate governance. That committee is expected to involve itself in the selection process, however, with Nissan postponing the decision expected for Monday.

The automakers are also at odds over Nissan's internal probe of Ghosn. The monthslong investigation found that he understated compensation and misappropriated investment funds and expenses for personal use, leading to his sacking as chairman and representative director on Nov. 22, three days after his arrest in Japan.

But Renault released the preliminary results of its own probe Thursday, saying in a statement that Ghosn's compensation from 2015 to 2018 was "in compliance with applicable law." 

Nissan shared the contents of its investigation with Renault before the French automaker's board meeting Thursday. The Japanese side offered to explain the report at the board meeting, but Renault requested that the information be relayed through a lawye.

The board said Thursday that it "requested that Renault's lawyers continue their review and assessment of the information provided, in liaison with Nissan's lawyers."

In addition to maintaining its cautious approach toward the Nissan investigation, the move is seen as a way for Renault to buy time while it prepares for the post-Ghosn era.

A prolonged fight over Nissan's next chief could impair the Franco-Japanese alliance's ability to make decisions -- a significant handicap in an industry disrupted by innovations like automated driving and car-sharing.

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