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French investigators to question Carlos Ghosn in Lebanon

Former auto executive Ghosn, who is a Lebanese, Brazilian and French national, fled Japan in a dramatic escape that drew headlines last year, arriving in Lebanon on December 30, 2019.

December 26, 2020 / 10:10 PM IST

A team of French investigators will come to Beirut next month to participate in interrogating former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, a Lebanese justice ministry official said Saturday.

The official gave no specific date or details of what information the investigators would seek from Ghosn.

Former auto executive Ghosn, who is a Lebanese, Brazilian and French national, fled Japan in a dramatic escape that drew headlines last year, arriving in Lebanon on December 30, 2019.

In addition to his trial in Japan, the 66-year-old businessman is facing a number of legal challenges in France, including tax evasion and alleged money laundering, fraud and misuse of company assets while at the helm of the Renault-Nissan alliance.

The Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the French investigators would be working alongside their Lebanese counterparts.

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Information about investigations is secret under French law, and French judicial officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday on the report.

After leading the Japanese automaker Nissan for two decades, Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 on charges of breach of trust, misusing company assets for personal gains and violating securities laws by not fully disclosing his compensation. He denied wrongdoing and fled Japan while out on bail awaiting trial. He is unlikely to be extradited from Lebanon, where he has been since last year.

At least two Ghosn-related investigations were opened in France. One focused on suspicious transactions between Renault and a distributor in Oman, as well as suspected payments for private trips and events paid by Renault-Nissan’s Netherlands-based holding company RNBV.

Another investigation focused on suspected misuse of company funds for a party for Ghosn at Versailles.

The French inquiry aims to determine who is at fault for a string of alleged financial violations between 2009 and 2020.

That includes “suspicious financial flows” between Renault and the SBA car dealership in Oman. This aspect of the inquiry is targeting several million euros of travel and other costs paid by the Netherlands-based Renault-Nissan holding RNBV but suspected to have been for Ghosn’s personal use.

Ghosn’s French lawyers have said the payments to SBA were “justified bonuses” for having boosted car sales in the Persian Gulf and denied allegations that the funds benefited Ghosn or his family personally.

Renault last year said an internal audit with Nissan found 11 million euros in questionable expenses at RNBV allegedly linked to Ghosn, including for air travel, personal spending and donations to nonprofit organizations.
Associated Press
first published: Dec 26, 2020 10:10 pm

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