Nissan, its North American subsidiary, its captive finance company, and Trophy Automotive Dealer Group have been sued for fraud by the former owners of two Trophy franchises.  - Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr

Nissan, its North American subsidiary, its captive finance company, and Trophy Automotive Dealer Group have been sued for fraud by the former owners of two Trophy franchises.

Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr

LOS ANGELES — The court-appointed receiver for the Sage Group of auto dealerships has filed a lawsuit against Nissan Motor Co. and two subsidiaries in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the group’s attorneys announced.

The lawsuit accuses Nissan Motor Co., Nissan North America Inc., and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. of fraudulently forcing two Southern California dealerships into a “fire sale” to Trophy Automotive Dealer Group, which also was named as a defendant.

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Saudi billionaire Khaled al-Juffali is a business partner of Trophy’s owner, Nasser Watar, and a “crony” of Carlos Ghosn, the automaker’s former CEO, lawyers said. Watar and al-Juffali are co-owners of Nissan Gulf, a Middle East regional distributor. al-Juffali has emerged as a central figure in the scandal surrounding Ghosn, who stands accused of a litany of financial crimes in Japan; al-Juffali has not been charged.

Sage’s receiver, Byron Z. Moldo, claims the dealerships fell victim to the culture of corporate corruption and greed that flourished at the Japanese automaker under Ghosn before he was arrested in November 2018 for underreporting compensation and raiding corporate accounts.

“Nissan was digging a grave for the Sage Group and simultaneously burying them in it.”

The lawsuit alleges that NMAC cut off floorplan financing for the dealerships in question, Universal City Nissan and West Covina Nissan, after the 2017 death of Sage founder Morris “Sage” Schrage — and when the dealerships’ finances declined, Nissan North America introduced Trophy Automotive as a potential purchaser.

“Nissan was digging a grave for the Sage Group and simultaneously burying them in it,” the lawsuit says, alleging that Nissan and Trophy concealed their preexisting financial entanglement from the Sage Group.

Read: Calif. Dealer Wins $15.8M in Toyota Lawsuit

Making matters worse, during the sale process, it is alleged that Trophy secretly recruited several high-level Sage Group employees to work surreptitiously on Trophy’s behalf. By the time it closed the sale, Trophy’s directors had recruited the Sage Group’s CFO, finance director, a general manager, and a used car manager to their side, all according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are represented by lead counsel Amnon Siegel and a team of associates at Miller Barondess LLP in Los Angeles.

“This is a case that involves Nissan’s unethical corporate culture and failed corporate governance at the highest levels of the company that harmed a group of long-time California dealerships,” said Siegel. “We look forward to trying the case to a jury.”

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