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French minister denies making request for Renault-Nissan merger

In this Nov. 22, 2018 photo, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, left, and Japan's economy minister Hiroshige Seko are pictured in Paris. (Kyodo)

PARIS (Kyodo) -- French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has denied making a request for a merger between Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. during talks with the Japanese government after the arrest of Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn, local media reported Sunday.

"The subject is not on the table today. What is on the table today is the governance of Renault," he told reporters during a visit to Cairo, according to AFP news agency. "The most important thing for us is to have solid, stable, sustainable governance for Renault."

The French government is the biggest shareholder in Renault with a stake of more than 15 percent. Under the partnership created by Ghosn, Renault owns a 43.4 percent stake in Nissan, which has a 15 percent stake in the French peer but without voting rights. Another Japanese carmaker, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., also joined the group in 2016.

In a report of an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper dated Sunday, Le Maire also said that a change in cross-shareholdings between Renault and Nissan "is not on the table."

Sources close to the matter said Sunday that the French government made the merger request, apparently aimed at bringing the two automakers under the wing of a new holding company, during talks between French and Japanese officials in Tokyo last week and that the request reflects President Emmanuel Macron's wishes.

In Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday at a press conference that the Japanese government believes "it's important that discussion will continue over how the Nissan-Renault alliance should be in a way that can satisfy those concerned."

Le Maire also said that Renault is expected to hold a board meeting in the coming days to discuss a new leadership, according to AFP.

At the meeting, Ghosn will possibly be dismissed as CEO and chairman of Renault and a successor chosen. The French carmaker has kept him in the roles despite his arrest in Japan in November for alleged financial misconduct at Nissan, according to local reports.

Nissan is widely seen as hoping to reduce the influence of the French partner on its management and review the alliance to make it more equitable.

Ghosn has been indicted on charges of violating the financial instruments law and aggravated breach of trust.

He has been accused of understating his remuneration in Nissan's financial statements for years and transferring derivatives losses from his private asset management company to the Japanese automaker's books.

Nissan, which brought the allegations to prosecutors following a whistleblower tip, and Mitsubishi both ousted Ghosn as chairman after his arrest.

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