JAPANESE prosecutors were today considering whether to file formal charges against Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn amid a probe into allegations he misused company assets and under-reported millions of dollars of income.
His arrest after a whistleblower disclosed the alleged misconduct left many in Japan stunned by the downfall of a relentless cost-cutter who appears to have spent lavishly on himself.
Prosecutors said they were holding Ghosn, 64, for allegedly collaborating to falsify securities statements and under-report $44.6m in income from 2011 to 2015.
A second Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, was also suspected of collaborating with him.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: ‘It’s extremely regrettable. We will watch developments closely.’
There was no word from Ghosn himself, and prosecutors have refused to say where he was being held.
The prosecutors, who reportedly arrested Ghosn after questioning him on his arrival by private jet at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, have 48 hours from the time of his arrest yesterday to decide whether to press charges.
They can hold a suspect for up to 20 more days per charge if they decide they need more time.
The scandal has thrown into question Ghosn’s future as leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which sold 10.6 million cars last year – more than any other manufacturer.
Nissan’s board is due to meet on Thursday to consider dismissing Ghosn and Kelly.
Earlier this year, Ghosn signed a contract that would have run until 2022.
He officially still leads the alliance as chief executive and chairman, and Renault said its board would hold an emergency meeting today in response to his arrest.
Of French, Brazilian and Lebanese background, Ghosn is also a towering corporate figure in France, where Renault is one of the heavyweight industrial survivors.
He has met repeatedly with the past four French presidents – no major economic event in France was held without him.
But French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told broadcaster Franc-Info today that Renault should name a temporary leadership as Ghosn was not in a position to head the group.
He added that French authorities had found no wrongdoing in Ghosn’s tax position in France.
Ghosn’s Lebanese heritage is a source of pride in Lebanon, and in Beirut the foreign minister, Gibran Bassil, issued a statement saying the Lebanese ambassador to Tokyo had been told to look out for ‘the model of Lebanese success abroad’.
He said the Lebanese foreign ministry would stand by Ghosn to ensure he got a fair trial.
In Japan, where foreign executives are scarce and even the biggest corporate bigwigs tend to keep a low profile, Ghosn’s status is more ambiguous.
He is admired for driving a turnaround at Nissan when it was near bankruptcy and for his foresight in pushing to bring electric and autonomous cars to the masses.
But in a 90-minute news conference late last night, Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa said Ghosn had too much power and the company was overdue some change.
The scandal was a ‘negative outcome of the long regime of Mr Ghosn’, he said.
Repeatedly questioned over how Nissan could have let financial misconduct persist for so long, Saikawa said systems inside the company limited transparency.
The allegations are a serious blow at a time when Nissan and Mitsubishi are still recovering from scandals over altered results of emissions and fuel economy tests on vehicles sold in Japan.