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Home / Business / The lieutenant who turned on Ghosn in Nissan’s civil war

The lieutenant who turned on Ghosn in Nissan’s civil war



In mid-April, Carlos Ghosn paid one of his increasingly rare visits to Japan and sat with journalists in Tokyo for an overwhelming interview on his plans to review the capital structure of the alliance Renault-Nissan.

The president of Nissan does not seem to have had the slightest hint of another more explosive plan that was secretly forming inside his company and involved a handful of his closest collaborators.

In the heart of that small group, working as he had done for many years at Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama, there was Hari Nada, the easy-British-Malay chief of the office of the head of the department. executive. A longtime manager in the legal department, the 54-year-old is one of the less visible but more influential figures of the Japanese automaker.

Nada had long been loyal to Mr. Ghosn, and was known for this inside the company. But by the spring of 201

8 Mr. Nada's hand had been forced. Willy-nilly, he was now part of a tiny group of up to five Nissan officials who were secretly investigating a potential misconduct by the man who once rescued the Japanese group from collapse.

After Ghosn's spectacular arrest in late November, Nada was defined by the Japanese media as an "informant". But the reality is more complex, say the people involved: for almost 10 months, Nissan has been in the grip of a civil war – a conflict so invisible that Mr. Ghosn did not know that he was investigated by the man who lives in two steps from his luxury apartment in Tokyo.

The Financial Times spoke with former Nissan employees, lawyers, people with direct links to prosecutors and several other inquiries on the investigation. They paint the image of a tumultuous but determined effort of months to uncover the truth behind a series of accusations against Ghosn that eventually forced some of his closest allies to turn against him. This led to the arrest and the ousting of one of the world's most powerful automotive executives, who remain behind bars in Japan.

Nada, a 28-year-old veteran in Nissan who personally reported to his last two most important CEOs, is one of the two central figures who have worked with Tokyo prosecutors. He provided key information that helped support Nissan's claims that Mr. Ghosn underestimated his pay and used the company's personal spending funds.

Mr. Ghosn, who remains president and CEO of Renault, and Greg Kelly, the immediate predecessor of Nada, were indicted this week with the accusation of denouncing the retribution of the former president of $ 44 million in financial documents for a five-year period. Including the last three fiscal years, Mr Ghosn, with the help of Kelly, is accused of incorrectly reporting a deferred fee that he would have had to receive after retiring over $ 80 million.

Even Nissan, as a company, was accused of the same crime. The company claims that Mr. Ghosn, who had the authority to establish compensation for the manager, and Mr. Kelly, his right-hand man, were the "minds" of misconduct and that other executives, including CEO Hiroto Saikawa, they were not aware of the wrong pay despite the questions raised by the car manufacturer's audit firm.

Mr. Nada, who remains in his work, has not responded to several requests for comment. Nissan, who declined to comment, did not provide Mr. Nada for an interview.

In addition to being the head of the CEO office, Mr Nada's biography on the company's website also lists him as senior vice president who belongs to the president's office, to the CEO's office. Nissan-Renault alliance and global compliance office among other responsibilities.

It is not clear when Mr. Nada started to question the decisions taken by Mr. Ghosn and Kelly. But at the beginning of the summer of this year, Mr. Nada was sharing information on Mr. Ghosn with Nissan's principal internal statutory auditor, who led the company's initial investigations before they brought their findings to Japanese prosecutors.

"He worried that what he was sitting on would become bigger and bigger," said one person with knowledge of the investigation.

Another person who worked with Mr. Nada said: "He discovered too much and was too heavy a burden to bear on his own."

The internal investigation was triggered by questions that the auditors had on a Amsterdam office the Nissan company founded in 2010, called Zi-A Capital. Mr. Nada, under his official name Hemant Kumar Nadanasabapathy, is listed with Ghosn and Kelly as one of the directors of Zi-A, who has received an investment of over 70 million euros from Nissan.

Mr. Kelly, a vice president-president at the time, had explained to the Nissan executive committee that the company would be used for venture capital investments. In 2011, Ernst & Young ShinNihon, Nissan's external auditor, was already questioning Nissan's senior officials about the investments that Zi-A was making, according to people familiar with the discussions at the time.

Ernst & Young ShinNihon refused to comment.

Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama, where Hari Nada worked as head of the CEO's office on the top floor © AFP

Tokyo prosecutors are now considering whether Zi-A was used for buy residences for Mr. Ghosn in Lebanon and in Brazil in 2011 and in 2012.

Mr. Ghosn believed that the residences, which are owned by Nissan, were company homes whose purchases were approved by the company, according to a person familiar with the family's thinking.

Following the information collected by the internal auditor from Mr Nada, they also sought the cooperation of the main secretariat who worked directly for Mr. Ghosn. Then they consulted the former prosecutors to determine if there was a potential crime in their findings. The auditor later began discussions with Tokyo prosecutors, who initiated their investigations.

The Tokyo District Prosecutors' Office refused to comment on whether it had reached an agreement with Nissan employees.

Nissan's internal investigation also uncovered several other allegations, including a $ 100,000 consultancy contract signed between Ghosn's and Nissan's older sister, and details of failed attempts by Ghosn's part of receiving deferred compensation while he was still managing director. From the arrest of Mr. Ghosn, Nissan has also received a number of reports of informative reports that outline other undisclosed charges.

The conclusions on Ghosn were presented to Saikawa. The chief executive of Nissan then instructed his chief compliance officer to start the company's investigation, leading to the removal of Ghosn as president on November 22nd.

The lawyer of Mr. Ghosn in Tokyo, Motonari Otsuru, was not reached for comment, but Mr. Ghosn has previously denied Tokyo prosecutors intentionally underestimated his salary in financial documents, according to NHK.

The lawyer of Mr. Kelly, Yoichi Kitamura, also claimed to believe that Kelly would be innocent at the trial.

When Mr. Nada joined the legal department of Nissan as a young apprentice after two years of studying at Chuo University in Tokyo, few could have foreseen the his rapid promotion to one of the closest to Mr. Ghosn lieutenants.

A person who worked with Mr. Nada at that time described him as a "cheerful and fun young man" who often went for a drink with his Japanese colleagues.

"He's very good at managing Japanese culture and being able to get a consensus," said another person who has worked with him in the past. "You can do without the table at meetings in Western Europe or the United States, but Japan does not work like that, you have to walk around the houses, it's very good at managing relations and coordination." [19659002] Another former colleague said: "He was very diplomatic, very calm and charming, he kept the peace".

This consensus building capability earned him the respect of both the older Japanese executives of Nissan and their Western colleagues.

Sometimes described as an unofficial chief of staff, he has a role that makes him one the closest to the CEO of Nissan – both under the mandate of Ghosn, and more recently under Mr. Saikawa.

It is a broad role, from managing the meetings of the CEO and to planning all the legal, compliance and communication functions of the company, in a work internationally known as "21st floor", the # 39; top floor of the headquarters of Yokohama of Nissan hosting the office of the CEO and the boardroom.

The role was a direct substitute for Kelly, although he also oversaw human relationships that were divided by the role of Nada.

His approach was to channel the decisions or even the mood of the CEO, whether it was Ghosn or Mr. Saikawa, directly to those under him, almost always without challenging them, an approach that sometimes saw him as "the executioner" of the court ".

While Mr. Ghosn spent his first night behind bars and Tokyo prosecutors burst into his luxurious apartment, perhaps he had not even realized that his neighbor had once challenged his authority and had become deeply involved in a process that had its current situation.


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