Nissan Audit Chief Sought to Expand Ghosn Probe -- and Was Shut Down
By Sean McLain in Tokyo and Nick Kostov in London
Nissan Motor Co.'s audit chief made a list of Nissan employees she believed enabled alleged wrongdoing by former Chairman Carlos Ghosn and planned to create a committee to consider disciplining them, but Nissan quashed her plan after a leading target said it wasn't necessary, according to an internal email and people familiar with the decision.
The audit chief, Christina Murray, who left Nissan in September, said in the email that she cautioned a top executive about following the advice of a person suspected of wrongdoing on whether to investigate it.
The email seen by The Wall Street Journal adds to the picture of internal clashes at the car maker in the aftermath of Mr. Ghosn's arrest last November and indictment on charges of financial misconduct -- charges that Mr. Ghosn denies.
The clashes now center on Hari Nada, a Nissan vice president who oversees its legal department. Previously Mr. Nada had worked closely with Mr. Ghosn on sensitive matters, and some Nissan lawyers have said that given the potential conflicts of interest, Mr. Nada needed to do more to avoid any involvement in probes of Mr. Ghosn's actions.
Ms. Murray and others had assembled a list of around 80 employees at Nissan who they believed had assisted Mr. Ghosn or obstructed the investigation and ranked the severity of these employees' actions on a scale of 0 to 5, said the people familiar with the effort. Mr. Nada was a 5, they said.
A proposed internal Committee on Employment Action and Remediation was to look at the allegations and determine whether any penalties were appropriate, the people said.
In September, Nissan completed a 170-page report prepared by its outside law firm, Latham & Watkins, summarizing its investigation into the Ghosn matter.
As the investigation wound down over the summer, Ms. Murray, the audit chief, and others involved worried that Latham's report was too narrow in scope, say people familiar with the discussions. A public summary of the report mentions only two names besides Mr. Ghosn, with Mr. Nada not among them.
Ms. Murray and others involved in Nissan's internal investigation were planning to use the findings to examine whether there should be disciplinary action against employees other than Mr. Ghosn and former aide Greg Kelly, according to people familiar with their plans. Mr. Kelly, who was stripped of his Nissan post, has been charged with helping hide Mr. Ghosn's compensation. He says he is innocent.
On Aug. 27, Ms. Murray met with Yasuhiro Yamauchi, then Nissan's chief operating officer and now its acting chief executive, according to the email and people familiar with the meeting. According to the email by Ms. Murray, which recounts the meeting, she asked Mr. Yamauchi whether it was true that the company had canceled plans for the proposed committee.
"He told me that Hari told him it was not necessary," Ms. Murray wrote in the email to her team.
She added: "I cautioned him about following Hari on this, as Hari might have a reason to not want a decision-making committee to hear about certain misconduct."
One of the people said Mr. Nada told Mr. Yamauchi that any disciplinary committee should rely on Latham's report and other fact-finding documents, rather than Ms. Murray's list. The list compiled by Ms. Murray was overly broad and "a complete mischaracterization of Latham's findings," this person said.
A Nissan spokeswoman declined to comment on the emails but rejected the idea that the company was treating those who may have helped Mr. Ghosn with kid gloves.
"Nissan fully intends to take necessary measures, based on company rules, with regard to the personnel involved in the misconduct led by" Mr. Ghosn, the spokeswoman said.
Ms. Murray had earlier raised concerns about Mr. Nada in June, when she filed complaints to human resources including one saying he had sought access to evidence Nissan gave to prosecutors, said people familiar with the complaints. Mr. Nada didn't actually get access to the evidence, said the people.
On Aug. 28, the day after Ms. Murray met with Mr. Yamauchi, she received an email saying her complaint against Mr. Nada presented a conflict of interest.
The email came from Motoo Nagai, the board member in charge of audit matters. "I understand that you have made various HR allegations concerning Hari Nada. It is therefore crucial that you do not become further involved in any aspects of the investigation that may involve Hari," Mr. Nagai wrote in the email, which was seen by the Journal. "Please rest assured that I will manage this matter appropriately."
Ms. Murray interpreted that to mean she no longer had oversight of the investigation report, according to people familiar with her thinking.
Ms. Murray's last day in the office was Aug. 30.
Write to Sean McLain at email@example.com and Nick Kostov at Nick.Kostov@wsj.com