Renault, Nissan Are Said to Review Consulting Fees at Alliance

(Bloomberg) -- Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA will review fees paid to consultants at their automotive alliance as part of a joint probe following former leader Carlos Ghosn’s arrest for alleged financial crimes, people familiar with the matter said.

Renault-Nissan BV, the Amsterdam-based unit set up to coordinate the alliance, usually spent about $10 million to $20 million a year on consultants, two people said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters. The spending at times amounted to as much as a third of its budget, one of the people said.

The carmakers hired French auditor Mazars to probe the unit, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg this week. The audit follows the Nov. 19 arrest of Ghosn in Tokyo on allegations of understating his income at Nissan and temporarily transferring personal trading losses to the company. He has been in custody ever since, and denies wrongdoing.

Spokesmen for Renault, Nissan and the alliance declined to comment. Mazars didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Le Canard Enchaine reported Wednesday that communications adviser Claudine Pons was paid by the Renault-Nissan alliance in 2011. Pons told Bloomberg News that the public-relations agency she heads, Les Rois Mages, was paid by RNBV that year, and that the payments were proper.

Pons said her company has received communications assignments for Renault after 2011. That year, the firm was hired by RNBV to do public relations work in the aftermath of an espionage probe. Pons said that her firm has been paid by Renault, not RNBV, since then.

Among other consultants confirmed by Bloomberg to have provided services were French politician and lawyer Rachida Dati and security expert Alain Bauer.

Bauer told Bloomberg he was hired on the recommendation of Louis Schweitzer, Ghosn’s predecessor as chief executive officer of Renault, to work for the carmaker and the alliance on an ethical charter, security tools and other matters, and was paid properly by RNBV and Renault.

Dati, who served as justice minister under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was hired by RNBV to provide legal services from 2009 to 2012, according to Olivier Prado, a lawyer who handles questions about her legal work. He declined to detail the projects she worked on or the advice she provided, citing client confidentiality. He said Dati’s payments were proper.

It’s unclear what consulting arrangements the probe will cover. Other areas of inquiry include executive compensation at RNBV and any misuse of company assets, the people familiar with the matter said.

RNBV coordinates actions within the alliance, but doesn’t intervene in the operational management of Renault or Nissan.

The allegations against Ghosn that emerged from a months-long investigation at Nissan subsequently triggered a probe at Renault into the pay of its top executives. Nissan had pushed for the third, joint probe at RNBV, and Renault agreed.

In an interview with Japan’s Nikkei newspaper published Wednesday, Ghosn said his arrest was the result of a “plot” against him by Nissan executives trying to thwart his plan to further integrate the two companies. In response, Nissan said it’s investigation “uncovered substantial and convincing evidence of misconduct.”

Nissan and smaller alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. ousted Ghosn as chairman shortly after his arrest. He resigned as CEO and chairman of Renault last week, effectively removing him from his post atop the alliance.

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