PARIS -- The French government is moving to dismiss Renault Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn and has requested a board meeting to consider candidates to replace him, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
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 automaker's alliance partner he also chaired until his dismissal in November.
But the government, which commands a 15 percent Renault stake and two board seats, has asked the company to convene its nominations committee followed by a full board meeting on Jan. 20 to begin the process of appointing one or more successors to Ghosn, according to three people briefed on the process.
Accusations against Ghosn have mounted this week, including an alleged 7 million-euro payment ($8 million) from an entity named NMBV that is part of the manufacturing partnership he assembled between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
Some Renault board members have concluded that a decision on Ghosn’s position is needed fast, one of the people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. There’s no way Ghosn can stay in charge of Renault, no matter how the legal saga ends, the person said.
"Renault must realize Ghosn had stepped beyond what is appropriate," said Janet Lewis, a Tokyo-based auto analyst with Macquarie Group. "Too much power would appear to have accrued to one person, so it is important to try and develop a leadership team that can continue the work of the Alliance."
A spokesman for Renault and a French finance ministry official both said they had no knowledge of plans for a weekend board meeting.
Ghosn's Nov. 19 arrest in Japan and swift firing by Nissan have deepened tensions with Renault, which owns a 43.4 percent stake in the Japanese automaker.
The French move to replace Ghosn follows a decision by the Tokyo District Court earlier on Tuesday to deny the ousted chairman's request for release on bail.
Ghosn has been charged over allegations he failed to disclose close to $80 million in additional compensation for 2010-2018 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 tire maker Michelin, is likely to replace Ghosn as Renault chairman, 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 spokesman for food services group Elior. "It's possible that people considered him, but no more than that."
Senard could alternatively be appointed chairman 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. Headhunting 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 became clear he would remain "incapacitated" for much longer, also hinting that Tuesday's court decision would be an "important development".
Two senior French finance ministry officials were traveling to Tokyo on Tuesday for talks with Nissan stakeholders aimed at stabilizing the alliance with Renault, daily Le Figaro reported.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said in a Monday interview he expected Renault to back the Japanese automaker's ouster of Ghosn when its board of directors were finally given full access to the findings of its internal investigation.
Bloomberg contributed to this report