Nissan’s investigator who probed chief executive’s pay is stepping down

Christina Murray, Nissan’s vice president in charge of audit and compliance is expected to leave the company as soon as September 10

FILE - In this July 25, 2019, file, photo, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa pauses for a moment during a news conference at the global headquarters in Yokohama, west of Tokyo. Saikawa has acknowledged receiving inappropriate payments from the Japanese automaker but has denied he ordered it or knew about it. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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The senior manager at Nissan who led the probe into excess compensation for chief executive Hiroto Saikawa and other executives is resigning, people with knowledge of the matter said, the latest sign of chaos engulfing the Japanese automaker’s top ranks.

Christina Murray, Nissan’s vice president in charge of audit and compliance, will leave the car maker as soon as September 10, said the people.  She began the investigation into over payments in June, when former executive Greg Kelly said in a magazine interview that Mr Saikawa had improperly received 47 million yen ($439,000) in 2013.

The latest sign of discord in the upper echelons is another headache for the automaker following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, charged with financial crimes along with Mr Kelly in November. Since then, Nissan’s corporate governance has come under intense scrutiny, forcing the auto maker to bring in more independent directors and establish oversight committees.

Ms Murray, who has been at Nissan since joining the company’s US operations in 2006, didn’t immediately return requests seeking comment. Koji Okuda, a spokesman for Yokohama-based Nissan, declined to comment.

Mr Saikawa told reporters in Japan on Thursday that he and several other Nissan executives received excess compensation. They include Hari Nada, a central figure in Mr Ghosn’s downfall, as well as executive vice president Asako Hoshino, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

Any over payment was arranged by an office headed by Mr Kelly at the time, Mr Saikawa has said, according to the people. The chief executive, who said he didn’t know specific details about the payments, said he would return any overpaid compensation.

The CEO’s comments delayed the pricing of a 250 billion yen bond issuance on Thursday, a rare occurrence in the yen bond market. The car maker is also grappling with a plunge in earnings and the ongoing fallout from Mr Ghosn’s arrest. Nissan’s shares have slumped 23 per cent this year, on track for its worst annual performance since a 74 per cent decline in 2008.

Revelations that executives received excess pay via stock appreciation rights followed an internal investigation presented to a Nissan oversight committee on September 4, the people said. The findings will be reported to the board of directors when they meet on September 9, the company said.

Mr Ghosn, who deepened Nissan’s alliance with Renault and drove the company’s strategy for decades, was arrested for financial crimes in November and is awaiting trial in Tokyo. Mr Nada used to be the head of Nissan’s CEO office, and struck a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors ahead of Mr Ghosn’s arrest, according to the former chairman’s lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka.

Mr Ghosn has denied the charges against him, which include that he under-reported his own compensation from Nissan. Ms Murray also oversaw Nissan’s internal investigation into Mr Ghosn.