YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Nissan Motor Co Ltd investigators are examining former Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s use of an internal ‘CEO Reserve’ fund and the role of subsidiaries in the Netherlands and other countries as part of a probe into alleged financial misconduct, two people with knowledge of the inquiry told Reuters.
Ghosn and close associates spent money from a fund that some insiders dubbed ‘the CEO Reserve’ to help pay for residences used by the Ghosn family as well as for other personal expenses, the people said.
Investigators are separately checking whether capital from some subsidiaries was also used to pay for Ghosn family residences and whether such payments were split into small chunks to escape checks by internal financial staff and auditors, they added.
The existence of the fund and the investigators’ scrutiny of how the subsidiaries’ capital was used is being reported by Reuters for the first time.
The two sources with knowledge of the inquiry declined to be identified as Nissan has not publicly disclosed details of the probe.
Nissan spokesman Nick Maxfield said the Japanese automaker was still looking into the nature and extent of what it calls the misconduct by Ghosn. “We are unable to comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigation at this time,” he said.
Ghosn has denied wrongdoing, according to media reports. His lawyer in Tokyo, Motonari Otsuru, was unavailable for comment on this article, according to a person who answered the phone at his law office.
In response to questions from Reuters about the CEO Reserve fund and other issues, two Ghosn representatives in the United States said they were unable to comment because they were not sufficiently familiar with the details.
Nissan fired Ghosn as chairman on Nov. 26, a week after he was arrested by Japanese prosecutors, accused of conspiring to understate his compensation by about half of the 10 billion yen ($88 million) awarded over five years from 2010. He was indicted this week and remains in detention.
Until recently one of the auto industry’s most celebrated executives, Ghosn was seen as the anchor of Nissan’s alliance with Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. He has since been fired as chairman of Mitsubishi although Renault has stopped short of dismissing him from its helm.
One focus of the probe is whether payments for the multi-million dollar residences were split by associates close to Ghosn into one million dollar chunks and then processed through a Nissan unit in the Netherlands called Zi-A Capital BV and its subsidiaries, which had been set up to invest in tech startups, one of the people said.
Reuters was not able to verify who was in charge of making the payments.
Done that way, the transactions may have escaped the attention of finance people within Nissan, Nissan’s auditors and employees affiliated with the Nissan-Renault alliance, the people said.
“Why would (internal financial staff) go in and check one-million-dollar transactions in a subsidiary five, six levels or layers down and away from the global headquarters? They wouldn’t do that,” one individual familiar with the inquiry said.
“Especially when amounts are less than one million dollars,” the individual said.