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Nissan seeks clean slate with CEO Saikawa exit

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Nissan Motors CEO Hiroto Saikawa leaving a press conference at the company's headquarters in Yokohama. AFP

Nissan seeks clean slate with CEO Saikawa exit

Crisis-hit Japanese carmaker Nissan hopes the resignation of its embattled chief executive will help turn the page on the tumult unleashed by the arrest of former chief Carlos Ghosn.

But the firm still faces plenty of challenges, from naming a successor to Hiroto Saikawa and repairing its alliance with partner Renault, to turning around the firm’s finances after a disastrous year.

Nissan CEO Saikawa announced on Monday that he would be stepping down, after an internal audit launched in the wake of the Ghosn scandal found he benefited inappropriately from a bonus scheme.

The firm’s current chief operating officer ,Yasuhiro Yamauchi, will serve as interim CEO while Nissan searches for a permanent replacement.

They hope to name someone by the end of next month.

Masakazu Toyoda, head of the firm’s nomination committee, said they were looking for someone who could inspire employees at Nissan, which has been buffeted by scandal since Ghosn’s shock arrest in November.

The firm also wants a candidate with auto industry experience and a “deep understanding” of alliances, a necessary trait for a CEO who will have to navigate Nissan’s tricky relationship with French partner Renault.

Nissan says it has narrowed the field to 10 candidates, among them non-Japanese citizens and women, but it is believed to favour hiring a Japanese citizen.

“There’s not an obvious replacement,” said a source with knowledge of the matter.

Yamauchi, 63, is not considered the “new blood” the firm needs and is not believed to be keen on keeping the post.

Saikawa described his resignation as the result, in part, of the “milestone” of completing the firm’s internal audit.

The audit’s conclusions focus largely on Ghosn and his former right-hand man Greg Kelly, accusing them of costing the firm at least ¥35 billion ($326 million) – a figure that includes deferred payments that were never actually made.

Ghosn denies any wrongdoing and a statement from his lawyers on Monday accused Nissan of an “inconsistent, contradictory and incoherent” position.

In addition to Ghosn, Kelly and Saikawa, six other senior Nissan officials – some still working at the firm – were found to have improperly received bonuses. Their names have not been made public.

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