Nissan shareholders have voted to eject Carlos Ghosn from the company board, as the detained former chairman fights multiple financial misconduct charges that have landed him in custody.
The extraordinary shareholders’ meeting at a Tokyo hotel was the first such gathering since the stunning arrest of the 65-year-old auto sector titan on 19 November.
After several hours of questions from shareholders, fielded by CEO Hiroto Saikawa, they voted to remove Ghosn, as well as Greg Kelly, a US executive who served as Ghosn’s right-hand man and who also faces charges in Japan.
They also approved a motion to replace Ghosn with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard.
Nissan sacked Ghosn as chairman almost immediately after his initial arrest but an extraordinary meeting of shareholders is required to remove him from the board.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa opened the meeting with a speech outlining the allegations against his former mentor, accusing him of misusing funds and seeking to conceal his compensation.
He and other executives bowed deeply before the thousands of shareholders at the meeting as it opened.
“We have to admit that there was a significant problem with our corporate governance,” he said, adding that he had been “extremely shocked when I learned of the misconduct.”
“Nissan’s government isn’t working well. I really regret that,” 77-year-old shareholder Isamu Beppus said before the meeting.
“If there is no rebuilding of its governance, there will be no revival,” he added.
Ghosn faces three separate charges. The first two relate to the alleged deferring of around $80 m in income and concealing this in official documents to shareholders.
The third, more complex, charge is that he attempted to transfer personal losses to Nissan and paid a Saudi contact who provided collateral from company funds.
Last week, prosecutors rearrested Ghosn, who was out on bail, over an additional allegation that he transferred Nissan money to a dealership in Oman but siphoned off millions for his own personal expenses – including the purchase of a luxury yacht.
Prosecutors believe Ghosn moved Nissan funds totalling $15 m between late 2015 and the middle of 2018 and used $5 m of that for his own ends.
On Friday, the Tokyo District Court ruled that prosecutors could have until at least April 14 to interrogate Ghosn, who denies any wrongdoing.
This period can be extended for a further 10 days if the court allows, meaning Ghosn is unlikely to be released any time soon.
Ghosn’s wife Carole, who had been living with him in Tokyo while he was out on bail, told a newspaper on the weekend that she had fled Japan with the help of the French ambassador because she “felt in danger” after her husband’s rearrest.
Japanese prosecutors reportedly wanted to question her on a voluntary basis and are looking into claims that Ghosn routed suspicious funds transfers through a business run by his wife.
Ghosn’s rearrest on Thursday came less than a month after he dramatically won bail, paying around $9 m to secure his release.
He had kept tight-lipped during his bail period and was subject to restrictions on his contacts with others connected with the case, and his online communications. He was also banned from leaving the country.
Just before his rearrest, Ghosn had appeared on Twitter to announce a news conference for 11 April – which will now not happen barring a further surprise.
However, he gave a combative interview to France’s TF1 television channel where he again denounced his downfall as a Nissan “plot” and voiced fears he might not receive a fair trial.
“It’s obvious it’s a plot,” said Ghosn, adding: “Everything needs to be put on the table. Of course, I have names.”
“Some of them you have seen in the press, but there are others that haven’t been in the press,” he said.
He said his downfall was orchestrated by people scared of closer integration between Nissan and its French partner Renault.
The other reason for the “plot” was the “deterioration in Nissan’s performance for two years,” he charged.
“I am very worried about the performance and future of Nissan,” said Ghosn, widely credited with saving the Japanese firm from the brink of bankruptcy.