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As Renault moves to fire Ghosn, work looms to improve ties with partners Nissan, M'bishi

TOKYO -- Former Nissan Motor Corp. Chairman Carlos Ghosn is now likely to be fired as chairman and CEO of French car giant Renault SA. With the elite businessman already ousted from his perches atop Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. following his detention for alleged financial misconduct, the question is now looming whether Renault can improve ties with its Japanese alliance partners.

The French government is Renault's largest shareholder, and the country's Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told a Jan. 16 TV program, "We should now move to a new phase," expressing a need to choose Ghosn's successor. A French newspaper has reported the possibility that a board meeting will be held as early as Jan. 20 to announce a new leadership structure.

On Jan. 18, Nissan and Mitsubishi said their internal probe had found that Ghosn received about 7.82 million euros ($8.9 million) "illegally" from the firms' joint venture in the Netherlands, and Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko indicated that his company is considering filing a damages suit against its former chairman.

Despite its Japanese partners' dismissal of Ghosn as chairman, Renault delayed the decision to sack him on three occasions, saying that the company does not have enough evidence to confirm Ghosn acted illicitly. Nissan officials tried to brief their Renault counterparts about the results of their internal investigation that they say show the former chairman's wrongdoing, but Renault refused the offer, deepening the gap between the two automakers.

However, Renault has begun hunting for Ghosn's successor out of concern for the fallout from his prolonged absence and deteriorating ties with Nissan. Behind these moves by the French automaker and Paris lies the refusal by the Tokyo District Court on Jan. 15 to release the former Nissan chairman on bail, making it clear that Ghosn is not going to be freed anytime soon.

The three companies are now getting on the same page on how to handle Ghosn, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they will be able to mend fences. A number of hurdles loom over issues such as the rearrangement of the capital alliance which Nissan officials say is "unfair," and the selection of the next Nissan chairman.

Nissan, for its part, will hold a meeting of outside experts this weekend and launch comprehensive discussions on how to improve governance at the company, where too much power was considered concentrated into Ghosn's hands. Renault, meanwhile, is pressing Nissan to hold an emergency shareholders meeting. As heads roll at the top tier of Renault, there could be an improved relationship with Nissan, but an individual close to the Japanese automaker said that "many problems remain."

(Japanese original by Naoya Matsumoto, Business News Department)

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