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France steps up pressure on Japan over Renault-Nissan merger

Carlos Ghosn was one of the most powerful men in the car industry before he was arrested over allegations of financial misconduct.
Carlos Ghosn was one of the most powerful men in the car industry before he was arrested over allegations of financial misconduct. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

France is pushing for a merger between Renault and Nissan, according to Japanese media, following the arrest of the former Nissan chairman, Carlos Ghosn, whom Paris also wants replaced as Renault CEO.

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64-year-old Ghosn headed the powerful Nissan-Mitsubishi-Renault alliance before his arrest in November on charges of financial misconduct.

Kyodo news reported Sunday that a delegation including Martin Vial – a Renault director designated by the French government – made the merger request at talks with Japanese officials in Tokyo.

The French government is the biggest shareholder in Renault with a stake of more than 15 percent, while Renault owns 43.4 percent of the Japanese carmaker Nissan with voting rights.

A merger between the two is favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron, Kyodo said.

The business daily Nikkei said Nissan was opposed to the merger as it would give Paris greater sway over the Japanese carmaker.

According to Nikkei, the delegation also said Renault wants to name Nissan's next chairman – a post that has remained vacant since Ghosn was ousted on his arrest in November.

Stability

But the reports appear to contradict comments made by France's economy minister, Bruno Le Maire. He told Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper: "A shareholder rebalancing, a change in cross-shareholdings between Renault and Nissan is not on the table.

Macron held talks last month with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina. They agreed to ensure a stable relationship within the three-way alliance, which also includes Japan's Mitsubishi Motors.

Last week, Renault said it had launched the search for a successor to Ghosn, after a Tokyo court quashed his appeal for bail as he faces three charges of financial misconduct.

Le Maire said in his interview with JDD: "The principle of the presumption of innocence must apply to Ghosn ... there are also the interests of Renault and of the alliance.

"A business of this scale needs solid and stable governance," he added.
 

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