Nissan CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION BROADENS
Nissan Motor Co Ltd <7201.T> has broadened its investigation into ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn to include dealings that took place in the United States, India and Latin America, three people with knowledge of the inquiry said.
Ghosn, once the most celebrated executives in the auto industry and the anchor of Nissan’s alliance with France’s Renault SA , has been charged with under-reporting his income. On Friday, he was also charged with aggravated breach of trust, accused of shifting personal investment losses worth 1.85 billion yen ($17 million) to Nissan.
In his first public appearance since his Nov. 19 arrest, Ghosn declared his innocence in court on Tuesday, saying he had never received compensation that was not disclosed and that Nissan had not suffered any losses due to a temporary transfer of a personal foreign exchange contract.
The transfer had been a temporary measure to prevent him from having to resign and use his retirement funds as collateral, Ghosn said.
Sources familiar with the matter have also said Nissan investigators are examining other dealer franchise decisions in several countries where Ghosn played a part in the decision-making to see if there had been any misconduct.
In particular, the automaker’s investigators are looking into Ghosn’s role in what Nissan insiders have described to Reuters as a surprise decision in 2008 to pick a company called Hover Automotive India Pvt Ltd (HAI) as Nissan’s partner for marketing, sales, after-sales service and dealer development in India.
A different firm, TVS, had been lined up for the role after much research by Nissan management in India when Ghosn personally intervened at the last minute to push for HAI, four Nissan insiders said. They add that in 2012, HAI became the Nissan’s exclusive national sales firm in India, despite being relatively inexperienced in distributing vehicles to dealers.
Reuters was unable to find a representative for HAI, which according to India’s Registrar of Companies was dissolved as of Sept. 11, 2018. TVS did not respond to a request for comment.
The probe is also looking at what appear to be outsized payments for Ghosn’s bodyguard services in Brazil, one of the sources said.
In one aspect of their internal probe, company investigators are looking into decisions made in the United States by Jose Munoz who led Nissan’s North American operations from 2014 to 2018, the people said. Munoz was recently placed on a leave of absence due to the probe, they added.
Nissan said this month that Munoz, its chief performance officer and widely seen within the industry as close to Ghosn, was on leave “to allow him to assist the company by concentrating on special tasks arising from recent events.”
Munoz is not cooperating with investigators, two of the people with knowledge of the probe said, both describing his actions as “stonewalling”.
One of the sources described Munoz, who currently heads Nissan’s China operations, as a “person of interest” in the probe, adding that it was not clear whether he would be accused of any wrongdoing.
Munoz, 53, did not reply to Reuters requests for comment. The people with knowledge of the probe spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. A lawyer for Ghosn, Motonari Otsuru, said in an emailed comment: “I am unaware of this.”
Some of the questions put to Munoz relate to dealer franchise rights, one of the sources said. Other questions relate to contracts with parts suppliers and service providers that Munoz approved when he was at the helm of Nissan’s U.S. operations, another source said.
The sources said the findings made as part of the probe into Ghosn’s affairs in the U.S. market are being shared with prosecutors. Tokyo prosecutors declined to comment.
Nissan Senior Vice President and head of HR, Arun Bajaj, has also gone on a “leave of absence” of late, Automotive News said, and is cooperating with prosecutors in the case.
We also learned this week that Infiniti boss Roland Krueger is “leaving to pursue new opportunities,” and that he’d be replaced by former head of Nissan sales in the United States, Christian Meunier.
But lest you think that this is only a couple guys, maybe being shown the door/taking a vacation for a while, have no fear. This is THE PURGE:
One Nissan insider called the sidelining of Munoz and Bajaj a “purge” of Ghosn-era executives.
Usually when people throw around words like “purge” they’re not just talking about two people, so I wouldn’t be surprised if more top-level Nissan departures come down the pipe over the next few weeks. Or even shortly – the Detroit Auto Show festivities begin this weekend, and that’s always a great time to bury unpleasant business.
While vast swathes of deeply incriminating evidence are still yet to be laid out in the Tokyo courts in the Ghosn case, we’re expecting more there, too.
Unless Ghosn was just whacked.
Check out our sources: