Lotus boss Dany Bahar sacked as Malaysian owners change direction for Norfolk car maker

Norfolk car maker Lotus appears poised for another change of direction after its Malaysian owners dramatically put the brakes on the tenure of chief executive Dany Bahar.

Mr Bahar, who has been suspended for the last two weeks, was yesterday dismissed by new owners DRB-Hicom, who have placed one of their own officials behind the wheel of the loss- making car firm.

The move came after DRB-Hicom had removed him from his post following an audit into the running of the company and an unspecified complaint against him by the conglomerate.

Nothing has been said publicly about the nature of the allegations made against Mr Bahar, but they are believed to have centred on the freedom he had with company expenditure with recent reports focusing on his travel expenses, money spent on a rented home, and suggestions that he may have given cars away.

Staff at Lotus's south Norfolk HQ in Hethel were told the news yesterday. But in a sign of the extent of the breakdown in the relationship between DRB-Hicom and Mr Bahar, news of his dismissal was released in a brief six- paragraph statement issued at 6pm last night, which made only a brief reference to the Turkish-born Swiss national.

However, DRB's group managing director Dato' Sri Haji Mohd Khamil Jamil insisted the conglomerate remained committed to the 'ongoing and future' operations of Lotus and it planned to take the company to the 'next level to remain relevant in the global automotive industry'.

'I look forward to bringing mutual benefits to not only DRB-HICOM and PROTON Holdings Berhad but also the Lotus Group and its employees as well as contribute to the growth of the British automotive industry,' he said.

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Yet Mr Bahar's sacking is sure to raise questions about the future of the ambitious five-year turnaround plan he had embarked on to transform Lotus from a niche company into a specialist sports car maker originally based on the production of five new models, which was set to create more than 1,000 new jobs.

And with business secretary Vince Cable also stressing recently that the government stood ready to reactivate a �10m loan from its regional growth fund to support the plan, all eyes will now be on whether that pledge and the amount of cash available will change.

Mr Bahar meanwhile, who has declined to discuss the situation publicly, is believed to have instructed lawyers from London law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer to represent him.

It is believed that he will sit down with his lawyers today to work out his next move.

Executives DRB remained tight lipped about the exact reasons for his departure only repeating that the action followed an investigation into a complaint against him.

It is not clear if he has walked away with a payoff or what the terms of the parting were. It is thought he was on holiday in Switzerland yesterday when the decision was made.

His departure has paved the way for DRB-Hicom to parachute in its head of vehicle manufacturing projects Aslam Farikullah as Group Lotus chief operating officer, who had already been drafted in to oversee the day-to-day running of the company during Mr Bahar's suspension.

The short statement from Group Lotus yesterday said: 'Group Lotus plc can today confirm that, Mr Dany Bahar has been terminated from his employment as Chief Executive Officer of Lotus with immediate effect.

'The decision was made by the Board of Group Lotus plc following the results of an investigation into a complaint made against him by the company's penultimate holding company, DRB-HICOM Berhad.'

The firm, which bought the car maker's parent company Proton in January has re-iterated it was not selling Lotus, and has recently engaged on a charm offensive to allay fears that it may be about to sell off the car maker, putting at risk the fate of the existing 1200 Norfolk-based staff.

But DRB said recently its review had raised the issue of �270m of loans to support Lotus, which had been guaranteed by Proton at the end of 2010, and its review had become 'especially pertinent' as a result.

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