‘Agonizing decision’: Mitsubishi Motors ousts chairman Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn’s downfall from the top of the auto industry is almost complete after Mitsubishi Motors removed him as chairman.

The Japanese carmaker’s board voted on Monday to oust the industry legend, who was arrested in Tokyo last week on suspicion of financial misconduct while serving as chairman of Nissan. He was removed from that post by Nissan’s board on Thursday.

Monday’s vote is the latest blow to an alliance Ghosn built between Mitsubishi (MMTOF), Nissan (NSANY) and France’s Renault (RNSDF).

In a statement to the Tokyo stock exchange, Mitsubishi said that the decision by its board was unanimous. It has appointed CEO Osamu Masuko as interim chairman.

“It was an agonizing decision,” Masuko told reporters after the vote. “The priority was what to do to protect the company, what to do to protect our employees and their families. It was an unavoidable decision.”

The move by Mitsubishi ends Ghosn’s reign at the helm of two of Japan’s major carmakers.

He retains his positions as CEO and chairman of Renault, but the French carmaker has asked other people to perform those roles on an interim basis.

The Brazilian-born executive was detained by Tokyo prosecutors a week ago following an internal investigation at Nissan that revealed “significant acts of misconduct” over many years, including understating his income in financial reports and misusing company assets.

Prosecutors allege that he and another Nissan director, Greg Kelly, collaborated to understate Ghosn’s income by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) over a five-year period ending in March 2015. The maximum punishment in Japan for filing a false financial statement is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million yen ($89,000).

Alliance future in doubt

Together Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi make one of every nine cars sold around the world. They employ more than 470,000 people in nearly 200 countries. Mitsubishi is the smallest member of the alliance, having only joined when Nissan bought a 34% stake in the automaker in 2016 following a major emissions scandal.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told employees at a town hall meeting on Monday that Ghosn had accumulated too much power at the top of the alliance, and he was concerned this was damaging business.

All three companies have tried to persuade investors that the future of the alliance is not in doubt. Top alliance executives are reportedly due to meet in Amsterdam this week to discuss their joint operations.

Ghosn has not yet commented publicly on the allegations. Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, citing unnamed sources, reported over the weekend that Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

He remains a director at both Nissan and Mitsubishi, as separate shareholder votes are needed to eject Ghosn from the boards entirely.