José Muñoz, former chairman of Nissan North America, resigned from the company Friday, as former Nissan executives Carlos Ghosn and Greg Kelly face new charges in Japan, according to Nissan.
Muñoz’s resignation, first reported by Reuters, is effective immediately, said Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman. Brockman declined to provide any more information on why Muñoz resigned or whether his resignation was related to the Ghosn investigation.
Muñoz, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, was considered an ally of Ghosn inside Nissan and a rising star. His departure adds to an increasingly chaotic leadership transition for Nissan.
Until recently, Muñoz was set to make appearances at the Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit auto show this month to discuss the company’s latest products. Those appearances, including an interview scheduled with USA TODAY, were canceled days ago.
Ghosn, Nissan’s former global chairman, was arrested in November and accused of underreporting his compensation. Former Nissan director Greg Kelly also was arrested in November in relation to Ghosn’s compensation reporting issues.
Ghosn faced charges on Jan. 11 of misusing the company’s funds for personal gain, and Nissan said in a statement the company filed a criminal complaint against him based on the same violation. The company, along with Ghosn and Kelly, have also been indicted for making false disclosures in annual reports.
Critics have questioned the veracity of the charges, suggesting that Nissan had an interest in ousting Ghosn because of his ties to Nissan partner Renault, a French automaker that retains a large stake in Nissan.
Both Ghosn and Kelly have said they were wrongly accused.
Ghosn has been detained in a Tokyo detention center since November. Kelly was released on Dec. 25 on bail as he dealt with health issues. Nissan has labeled Kelly as the “mastermind” of the alleged scheme.
Kelly was moved to a hospital after being released and is awaiting surgery for conditions tied to spinal stenosis, his Nashville lawyer Aubrey Harwell Jr. said. He has not been allowed to leave Japan, so he is exploring surgery options there. A trial could begin as early as March or April after Kelly recovers from surgery, Harwell said.
Kelly’s wife, Dee Kelly, has said in recent video statements that her husband has been framed and “betrayed” by Nissan executives as part of a power grab.
Muñoz, born in Spain, reported to Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and was responsible for the company’s overall results. Under his leadership as chairman, Nissan generated record sales in the U.S. in 2016 and 2017, according to the company’s site.
Muñoz was among local officials who announced that Nissan bought naming rights to the Titans’ stadium in 2015. He also announced Nissan’s decision to launch production of its new LEAF model at its Smyrna plant in 2017.
Prior to his North America role, Muñoz led Nissan Mexicana as president. He joined Nissan in 2004 as a general manager at Nissan Europe.
Denis Le Vot is now North America chairman for Nissan. Nissan has not named a replacement for Muñoz in his global role, Brockman said.
Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter at @JamieMcGee_.