PARIS -- Carlos Ghosn will get a chance on Tuesday to make his case to a Tokyo court that he should be released on bail from his 50-day detention over alleged financial impropriety at Nissan. But in Paris, his future as head of Renault is increasingly in doubt.
The French state, the automaker’s biggest shareholder, is calling into question if Ghosn can remain at the helm of one of the country’s most important automakers, according to a senior government official.
Ghosn would spend most of his time defending himself against accusations of financial improprieties rather than running a company, and his position at Renault is seen as unrecoverable, according to people close to Renault’s leadership team, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company matters.
Ghosn held pivotal roles in Japan and France as chairman of Nissan and chief of Renault, as well as head of the alliance that binds together both automakers. Nissan, where allegations of wrongdoing surfaced, moved swiftly to remove him from his post after his arrest on Nov. 19, while Renault nominally kept him in place as it awaits more evidence of malfeasance.
Ghosn has disputed the allegations through his lawyer, though prosecutors in Japan have doubled down, re-arresting the disgraced executive last month and bringing new accusations that range from hiding investment losses to misuse of company funds.
Renault officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
How to proceed is a tough choice for Renault and the French government. The thinking goes that on the one hand Ghosn deserves a fair treatment and opportunity to defend himself, particularly given his years-long services to Renault. But on the other hand, the government does not want to be seen accused of shielding an executive who enjoyed the trappings of large salaries, at a time when France is rocked by violent protests against rising costs of living and tax cuts for the wealthy.
“There is a presumption of innocence. I have nothing in hand that lets me demand Ghosn’s departure,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in an interview on French radio Europe1 on Sunday. “This principle of the presumption of innocence in a democracy is not negotiable.”
Only if Ghosn was definitively prevented from returning would the government seek to replace him, Le Maire said. The government has sought more information on allegations of improper payments, he said.
“If and only if he were blocked lastingly would we draw conclusions. But we aren’t there today,” Le Maire said.