Ghosn Aimed for Second $80 Million Nissan Payout

(Bloomberg) -- Well before his ouster at Nissan Motor Co., Carlos Ghosn drew up a 10-billion-yen incentive plan for the board of which 9 billion yen, or around $80 million, was meant to go in his own pocket.

Under the plan, which wasn’t adopted, Nissan was to issue stock options to directors that could be exercised for 1 yen each upon retirement, according to two people with direct knowledge of the investigation that led to Ghosn’s arrest for financial crimes on Nov. 19. On average, the shares have traded for more than 1,000 times that price over the past year, making the proposed options virtually equivalent to free shares.

Ghosn Aimed for Second $80 Million Nissan Payout

The latest revelation is one of a number of purported attempts by Ghosn to award himself lucrative post-retirement compensation. It’s separate from the allegation that he failed to report eight years of deferred pay, which also amounted to about 9 billion yen, the people said, or a 4.7 billion yen share-price-linked plan, called stock appreciation rights, that he planned to receive after retirement.

Ghosn has denied wrongdoing regarding all of these programs. The long-term incentive plan was canceled in January 2017, and the stock appreciation rights would have expired in March 2019, according to other people with knowledge of Ghosn’s case.

Ejecting Ghosn, who came to Nissan two decades ago and saved it from bankruptcy as part of a tie-up with French rival Renault SA, may seem an extreme response to alleged financial reporting failures. Still, the series of Ghosn’s financial machinations start to paint the picture of a man eyeing a big payout -- at the expense of other board members and senior managers -- and that contributed to his ouster, people familiar with Nissan’s probe said.

Ghosn is set to be indicted for financial crimes as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, three weeks after his arrest at a Tokyo airport on allegations of under-reporting of his income at Nissan.

Ghosn discussed the stock-option plan with a small group of people, including former director Greg Kelly, who has also been arrested, as well as members of his secretariat, the people said. It was never presented to the board or to shareholders.

Kelly claims Japanese regulators had approved his practice of not including Ghosn’s deferred pay in securities reports, according to Kyodo News. Neither man has been formally charged. Kelly’s lawyer didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

A spokesman for Nissan declined to comment on the investigation into Ghosn.

Ghosn led the board in discussions of overall compensation to be paid out each year for all directors, including himself, the people said. Separately, he would write a memo to himself setting out deferred compensation to be paid to him in an unspecified way at some unspecified point in the future. He would then direct Kelly to find a way to make the payments.

In some cases, the payment were to take the form of consulting contracts, or compensation for non-compete agreements after Ghosn stepped down as Nissan CEO, according to people familiar with the investigation.

He never received any of the funds, according to the people.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.