French investigators to question ex-Nissan boss Ghosn in Lebanon

A team of French investigators will go to Beirut next month to question Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, a Lebanese justice ministry official has said.

Former executive Ghosn, who is a Lebanese, Brazilian and French national, fled Japan last year, where he had been facing financial misconduct charges, arriving in Lebanon on December 30 2019.

In addition to his trial in Japan, the 66-year-old businessman is facing a number of charges 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 said the French investigators would be working alongside their Lebanese counterparts.

Information about investigations is secret under French law.

Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn

After leading the Japanese car giant 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 over 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 euro of travel and other costs paid by the Netherlands-based Renault-Nissan holding RNBV, 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 non-profit organisations.