Nissan sues Ghosn's sister while Renault finds no irregularities in his pay

Still, the French automaker is lining up potential replacements at CEO

Nissan sued ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn's sister on Tuesday in a Rio de Janeiro court for "unjust enrichment," according to judicial records seen by Reuters. The suit is the latest twist to a bitter legal fight between Ghosn and Nissan over the contents of a beachfront apartment that the former executive used during his trips to Brazil.

Brazilian-born Ghosn is accused of having underreported his income while leading the Japanese carmaker and diverting company funds for his personal use. He is being held in a prison in Japan and the carmaker says there might be evidence of his alleged crimes in the Rio apartment. Additional details regarding the unjust enrichment suit were not immediately available and it was unclear how long it might take to resolve the case. A representative for the Ghosn family did not have an immediate comment.

The Japanese press had already reported that Ghosn's sister, Claudine Bichara de Oliveira, could be embroiled in the scandal. Yomuri, Japan's largest daily by circulation, reported in November citing unnamed sources that Nissan's internal investigation had found that Ghosn instructed the company since 2002 to pay some $100,000 a year to his elder sister. The compensation was supposed to be for a role as an adviser. The paper added that Bichara de Oliveira had in fact been living in and managing the Rio apartment that Nissan had bought for the use of Ghosn and that she had done no advisory work for the car maker.

Meanwhile, Renault issued a preliminary report indicating that an audit launched in the wake of Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn's arrest in Japan had so far found no irregularities with his pay at the French carmaker.

Ghosn was charged on Monday in Japan for failing to declare deferred income he had agreed to receive from Nissan, for the five years ending March 2015. There is speculation that Nissan itself may be indicted in Japan as part of the case against Ghosn.

While Nissan fired Ghosn days after his Nov. 19 arrest, Renault has resisted pressure to replace him permanently. The Renault board also "noted that, at this stage, it does not have information concerning Carlos Ghosn's defense," the company said after its meeting, which had long been scheduled to discuss 2018-19 financial accounts.

During the five-hour session, several directors led by Cherie Blair, wife of the British former prime minister Tony Blair, began to express impatience with that position, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

"What she said, in effect, was that we can't remain in this situation forever," one source said of Blair. "At some point you need to move forward and move on."

French officials have already begun listing possible candidates to replace Ghosn as CEO, three sources close to the company said. Senior Toyota executive Didier Leroy will be considered, one said. "I have no comment on speculation, and I am 100 percent concentrated on my job at Toyota," Leroy told Reuters.

Some industry analysts have raised the possibility that the ousting of Ghosn at Nissan may have a lot to do with the Japanese company's desire to change the terms of its partnership with Renault. "This whole situation may give Nissan the opportunity to reset, and to put all the blame on Renault and Ghosn," said Egor Matveyev, an assistant professor of finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Under French government pressure, Ghosn had been exploring a deeper tie-up or even a full merger between Renault and Nissan, despite strong reservations at the Japanese carmaker. Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, whose reciprocal 15 percent stake in its French parent carries no voting rights. Nissan in turn controls Mitsubishi via a 34 percent holding.Ghosn and alleged accomplice, Nissan director Greg Kelly, remain in custody and have had limited opportunity to respond to the allegations or defend themselves, particularly in public.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)

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