YOKOHAMA, Japan -- In September 2007, despite weighty responsibilities at the helm of Nissan and alliance partner Renault, Carlos Ghosn found time to get involved in a seemingly straightforward business decision.
Two days before Nissan's executive committee was due to formalize the choice of a company called TVS as a partner for sales and marketing in India, Ghosn threw his weight behind a different firm: Hover Automotive India, four company sources with knowledge of the matter said.
Hover was considered by the executive committee but deemed to be insufficiently experienced in automotive distribution and marketing, sources said. However, its founder and chairman, Moez Mangalji, was a close family friend of Ghosn's, the sources said.
A Nissan executive wrote to the team preparing for the committee meeting saying it was Ghosn's wish that Hover be recommended over TVS, two of the sources said. This was enough to ensure Hover got the job, the sources said.
The incident is part of Nissan's wide-ranging probe into what it calls "years of serious misconduct" by Ghosn. There is no evidence of Ghosn benefiting from the decision, but it is an example of conduct investigators believe helped his friends at Nissan's expense, the two sources said.
A Ghosn spokesman said the former Nissan chairman did not intervene on behalf of Hover, that Hover met key criteria to launch the distribution business, and all partnership decisions were made by Nissan's executive committee.
"The baseless accusations against Mr. Ghosn and steady stream of leaks from certain Nissan executives are a transparent and dishonorable attempt to smear Mr. Ghosn's reputation, destabilize and reset the balance of power in the Alliance, and distract from Nissan's alarming performance," the statement from Ghosn's spokesman said.
The spokesman declined repeated requests by Reuters to be identified, citing the "sensitive nature of the topics."
A representative for Mangalji said Hover employed experts with substantial experience and "that at no point was Hover aware of any special treatment on its behalf by Mr Ghosn or anyone else."
Ghosn would continue to back Hover even after Nissan dealers in India began protesting in 2012 to executives about a collapse in sales, according to the sources, who declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
Those protests grew in 2013, with some groups representing Nissan's India dealers sending letters to senior executives, imploring them to step in, and Nissan dropped Hover as a partner the next year.
An internal Nissan document that summarizes some of the decision-making around the choice of Hover and which one source said was created in 2014, was also reviewed by Reuters.
Company insiders say the Hover episode was a defining moment for some managers inside Nissan, leading them to question the agenda of a man who had been universally lauded for bringing Nissan back from the brink of bankruptcy.
At the same time, the sources said there was little resistance among the executive committee and other management to Ghosn's support for Hover and one other dealership decision in the Middle East that had raised eyebrows within Nissan.
"In so many ways it was assumed that what he said would not need to be questioned. That applies to just about every decision he made," one of the sources said.