TOKYO — Nissan on Wednesday cleared the senior executive in charge of its legal department of “inappropriate involvement” in the investigations surrounding the company’s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, following a series of reports about possible conflicts of interest.
In a statement, Nissan said Hari Nada — who is expected to be a key witness against Mr. Ghosn in his trial over financial wrongdoing — would remain a senior vice president and would continue to report to its acting chief executive, Yasuhiro Yamauchi.
Mr. Nada’s supervision of the company’s legal department and security office were transferred, as well as other roles, to Hitoshi Kawaguchi, an executive vice president, the statement said. Mr. Nada was given an added title as senior adviser overseeing special projects.
Nissan said it had “found no evidence of inappropriate involvement by Nada in the internal investigation into executive misconduct led by former Chairman Carlos Ghosn and others.” The statement added that “the change is aimed to avoid undue suspicion and to enable him to focus on important tasks for the company, such as forthcoming legal action.”
A spokeswoman for Nissan declined to elaborate on that legal action.
Mr. Nada has agreed to an immunity deal with Japanese prosecutors in return for providing evidence against Mr. Ghosn, who was detained by authorities in Tokyo in November and later charged with financial wrongdoing. Mr. Ghosn, who awaits trial on bail, has said he is innocent of all charges.
After Mr. Ghosn’s arrest, Mr. Nada continued to oversee matters related to allegations of misconduct at the company, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
Mr. Nada’s involvement was discussed at length during a board meeting on Tuesday, with some members seeing the new responsibilities for Mr. Nada as an attempt to sideline the lawyer, according to people familiar with the discussion. The company was unlikely to take strong action against him because of his status as a whistle-blower and his cooperation with prosecutors, one of the people said.
The announcement about Mr. Nada follows a decision Tuesday by Nissan’s directors to overhaul the company’s top management, appointing a new chief executive, operating officer and vice chief operating officer in hopes of giving the company a fresh start after a tumultuous year. Beyond the Ghosn arrest, Nissan has experienced plunging profits, diminished sales, and the exit of the chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, over a separate overpayment issue.
Concerns about Mr. Nada’s role at the company have increased in recent weeks following several media accounts about pay irregularities at Nissan. The New York Times has reported that Mr. Nada received around $280,000 in improper payments from stock-based compensation in 2017.
The findings were detailed in a report by an outside law firm hired to investigate pay-related problems at Nissan. Nissan recently said Mr. Nada received less money than the law firm found in its review, but the company declined to elaborate. Nissan also said some of the employees who received the wrongful payments were “unaware that improper methods were used.”
In April, Mr. Nada recused himself from all matters related to the investigations into misconduct at the company, according to people familiar with the situation. Two senior lawyers repeatedly raised concerns that Mr. Nada still wielded influence over those matters. One has since left the company and another was removed from handling any legal work related to misconduct allegations.