In this file photo taken on April 25, 2016, Carlos Ghosn attends a press conference at the Beijing Auto Show in Beijing. Picture: AFP/FRED DUFOUR
In this file photo taken on April 25, 2016, Carlos Ghosn attends a press conference at the Beijing Auto Show in Beijing. Picture: AFP/FRED DUFOUR

Paris — The French government is moving to dismiss Renault’s scandal-hit chair and CEO Carlos Ghosn and has requested a board meeting to consider candidates to replace him, sources with knowledge of the matter say.

France, Renault’s biggest shareholder, had until now supported the company’s decision to keep Ghosn in office while he awaits trial in Japan for alleged misconduct at Nissan, the French carmaker’s alliance partner he also chaired until his dismissal in November.

But the government, which commands a 15% Renault stake and two board seats, has asked the company to convene its nominations committee followed by a full board meeting on January 20 to begin the process of appointing one or more successors to Ghosn, according to three people briefed on the process.

A spokesperson for Renault and a French finance ministry official both said they have no knowledge of plans for a weekend board meeting.

Ghosn’s November 19 arrest in Japan and swift firing by Nissan have deepened tensions with Renault, which owns a 43.4% stake in the Japanese carmaker.

The French move to replace Ghosn follows a decision by the Tokyo district court earlier on Tuesday to deny the ousted chair’s request for release on bail.

Ghosn has been charged over allegations he failed to disclose close to $80m in additional compensation for 2010-18 that he had arranged to be paid later. Nissan director Greg Kelly and the company itself have also been indicted.

Both men deny the deferred pay agreements were illegal or required disclosure, while former alliance boss Ghosn has denied a separate breach of trust charge over personal investment losses he temporarily transferred to Nissan in 2008.

Jean-Dominique Senard, who is soon to step down as CEO of tyremaker Michelin, is likely to replace Ghosn as Renault chair, according to two sources.

The French state and its advisers are also considering candidates for the Renault CEO role currently occupied on an interim basis by Ghosn’s deputy Thierry Bollore.

Bollore is among contenders for the permanent CEO appointment. Others under consideration include senior Toyota executive Didier Leroy, Elior boss Philippe Guillemot and one other potential candidate, a source involved in the discussions said.

“Philippe Guillemot denies being a candidate for Ghosn’s succession,” said a spokesperson for food services group Elior. “It’s possible that people considered him, but no more than that.”

Senard could alternatively be appointed chair and CEO, taking over both of Ghosn’s current roles, the source said. “All these options are on the table.”

Leroy declined to comment, and attempts by Reuters to reach Senard at Michelin were unsuccessful. Head-hunting firms Korn Ferry and Emeric Lepoutre & Partners, which are involved in the executive search, could not be reached after hours.

French officials had said Ghosn should be kept in office unless it becomes clear he will remain “incapacitated” for much longer, also hinting that Tuesday’s court decision would be an “important development”.

Two senior French finance ministry officials were travelling to Tokyo on Tuesday for talks with Nissan stakeholders aimed at stabilising the alliance with Renault, daily Le Figaro reported.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said on Monday he expects Renault to back the Japanese carmaker’s ouster of Ghosn when its board of directors are finally given full access to the findings of its internal investigation.

Reuters