* Ghosn tells Les Echos nothing in audit implicates him
* Several possible internal candidates to replace COO
* Renault will take a few weeks to examine candidatures
PARIS, April 13 (Reuters) - Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn never thought of resigning over the industrial espionage probe turned fraud case at the French carmaker, he told Les Echos in an interview.
“Nothing in the audit implicates me,” Ghosn said, referring to reviews carried out in recent weeks that led to Chief Operating Officer’s resignation on Monday over the debacle. [ID:nLDE73A0AY]
“I who have known many crises am convinced that during a crisis a captain does not abandon his ship. He makes sure that the ship weathers the storm,” said Ghosn, who is also chief executive of Renault’s Japanese partner Nissan Motor .
Renault, 15 percent owned by the French state, fired three executives in January, saying its high-profile electric vehicle project had been targeted by an international spy network, but later had to admit it was tricked, the men did nothing wrong and there was no spying.
Ghosn also said there were several possible internal candidates to replace Pelata, and the group would take a few weeks to examine their candidatures.
Ghosn told Les Echos the main lesson to take from the crisis was the need to boost support functions within the car maker’s organisation.
Human resources head Marie-Francoise Damesin is joining the executive committee while Mouna Sepehri, previously a managing director at the Renault-Nissan alliance has been appointed delegate director to the chairman’s office and will oversee the legal department as part of her functions.
Ghosn also said a change in Renault and Nissan’s cross-shareholdings could not be ruled out but this would take place around 2013.
“Reflections about the alliance will take place once Renault has returned on a recurrent basis to a current operating profit and positive free cash flow,” Ghosn said.
The group set out a new strategic plan in February that aimed to nearly double operating margin to more than 5 percent of sales in 2013, as part of a new growth plan that targets Brazil and Russia as key markets. [ID:nLDE719030] (Reporting by Helen Massy-Beresford; Editing by Anshuman Daga)