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France calls for Ghosn's ouster as Renault chairman, chief exec

This eliminates one of his last potential allies within the car alliance he has held together for 20 years

Paris

FRANCE is turning on Carlos Ghosn almost two months after his arrest in Tokyo, eliminating one of the executive's last potential allies within the global car alliance he has held together for almost two decades.

The French government has called for Mr Ghosn's dismissal as chairman and chief executive officer of alliance member Renault SA, which refused to follow partners Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motor Corp in sacking him shortly after he was detained on Nov 19. France is the biggest shareholder in Renault, which was caught unawares when Japanese prosecutors acted on allegations of Mr Ghosn's financial misconduct over years at Nissan.

"We are entering now a new phase," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday evening during an interview. "In this new phase, we need a new and durable governance for Renault." French officials - among them Renault board member Martin Vial - arrived in Tokyo to discuss the future of Renault's partnership with Nissan, in which it is the largest investor after bailing out the Japanese company in the early 2000s. Mr Vial, who heads the agency that oversees French state shareholdings, will meet Thursday night with Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, Nikkei newspaper reported.

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Mr Ghosn's arrest at Tokyo's Haneda airport has jolted the world's biggest car alliance, raising questions over whether their partnership will survive his downfall. While the unexpected turn of events has created a climate of suspicion between the companies, Renault's new focus on a post-Ghosn reality may help relieve some of the tension.

Renault's board will probably meet in coming days to replace him, people familiar with the matter said earlier, asking not to be identified because the information isn't public. The board was spurred into action by Mr Ghosn's failure this week to win bail, which points to a lengthy incarceration and would prevent him from carrying out his roles at Renault, they said.

Mr Ghosn lost an appeal Thursday of the latest bail rejection. His lawyers said they plan a further appeal to Japan's Supreme Court. They have previously acknowledged that he may stay in custody until his trial, which could be six months away.

The former high-flying executive has been indicted for understating his income at Nissan by tens of millions of dollars and transferring personal trading losses to the carmaker. Nissan has also accused Mr Ghosn of misusing company funds, including over homes from Brazil to Lebanon and hiring his sister on an advisory contract. He has said he's innocent and has called the accusations "meritless and unsubstantiated".

Renault and the French state had cited the principle of presumed innocence in backing Mr Ghosn, while Nissan and smaller alliance partner Mitsubishi removed him as chairman. Accusations against Mr Ghosn mounted this week, including a reported seven million-euro payment (S$10.9 million) from a Dutch entity named NMBV that is part of the manufacturing partnership he assembled among the three carmakers.

"Renault must realise Ghosn had stepped beyond what is appropriate," said Janet Lewis, a Tokyo-based auto analyst with Macquarie Group Ltd.

"Too much power would appear to have accrued to one person, so it is important to try and develop a leadership team that can continue the work of the alliance." BLOOMBERG