Nissan has so far said little about why Ashwani Gupta, the company’s chief operating officer (COO) since 2019, didn’t have his contract renewed at the June 2023 shareholder meeting, but new details are beginning to emerge about what brought about the COO’s exit.
Two insiders have told Reuters that Nissan installed a camera system at Gupta’s home in Tokyo, and it’s possible this was done at the behest of CEO Makoto Uchida as part of an investigation into claims Gupta harassed a female employee in March.
News of this latest intrigue at Nissan started leaking out around April this year when Hari Nada — the executive who revealed former CEO Carlos Ghosn’s alleged financial crimes — sent a letter to Nissan’s independent directors.
In it he stated the automaker investigated the claim against Gupta, and asked him to resign. Other reports indicate the harassment investigation has not yet reached a final conclusion on the matter.
It seems as though it was during this investigation that Gupta was put under company surveillance.
Nada’s letter suggested Uchida played a role in Nissan’s decision to monitor Gupta. Nada also requested the company engage an international law firm to look into how the internal investigation was started and run, determine whether its results were predetermined, and to see if the CEO was involved.
In May, Nissan’s independent directors hired US law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to investigate Nada’s claims. The law firm is expected to conclude its work by July at the earliest, and presented preliminary findings in a meeting with Nissan’s board on June 20; both Gupta and Uchida were recused from the meeting.
According to the insiders, the law firm found Nissan installed two camera systems at Gupta’s Shibuya home in Tokyo. One was operated by an external security firm, and the other was set up and monitored by Nissan’s internal security team.
Davis Polk & Wardwell concluded Nissan’s audit committee used its investigative powers in an arbitrary manner, but it has yet to state if Gupta knew about these camera systems, or if they were installed at the request of, or with the knowledge of, CEO Uchida.
The law firm also hasn’t come to the conclusion on whether the cameras are illegal. A fraud investigator and lawyer told Reuters that Japanese law permits companies to monitor work-issued computers and phones, as well as investigate an employee’s conduct outside of work in some circumstances.
An earlier report from the news wire suggested the investigation into Gupta was instigated by Uchida in order to gain leverage over his second-in-command and force him out of the company.
Gupta, and some other directors, allegedly disagreed with the terms of the reworked Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which was negotiated by Uchida.
The reset of the Renault/Nissan relationship was announced at the beginning of 2023, and includes Renault promising to sell down its Nissan stake and limit its voting rights to just 15 per cent.
On the flipside Nissan will finally gain voting rights at Renault, and the Japanese firm will take a 15 per cent stake in Renault’s EV arm. There would also be technology transfers from Nissan to Renault.
Gupta has been unusually prominent in his role of COO, taking a leading role in product and company announcements.
A Reuters report said that during the pandemic Gupta’s supporters were angling for him to be elevated to co-CEO in order to improve relations with Renault and help run Nissan’s turnaround, but this promotion never occurred.