French investigators to question Carlos Ghosn in Lebanon

BEIRUT (AP) – A team of French investigators will travel to Beirut next month to participate in the questioning of former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, an official from the Lebanese justice ministry said on Saturday.

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

Former auto executive Ghosn, of Lebanese, Brazilian and French nationality, fled Japan in a dramatic escape that made headlines last year, arriving in Lebanon on December 30, 2019.

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

The Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations, said French investigators would work alongside their Lebanese counterparts.

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

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

At least two investigations linked to Ghosn have been opened in France. One focused on suspicious transactions between Renault and a distributor in Oman, as well as suspicious payments for private trips and events paid for by the Dutch holding company RNBV of Renault-Nissan.

Another investigation focused on an alleged misappropriation of company funds for a party for Ghosn at Versailles.

The French investigation aims to determine who is responsible for a series of alleged financial violations between 2009 and 2020.

This includes “suspicious financial flows” between Renault and the SBA car dealership in Oman. This aspect of the investigation targets several million euros in travel and other expenses paid by the Dutch company Renault-Nissan which owns RNBV but is suspected of having been for Ghosn’s personal use.

French attorneys for Ghosn said the payments to the SBA were “justified bonuses” for boosting car sales in the Persian Gulf and denied claims that the funds personally benefited Ghosn or his family.

Last year Renault said an internal audit with Nissan revealed € 11 million in questionable expenses at RNBV allegedly related to Ghosn, including for air travel, personal expenses and donations to organizations at non-profit.

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Associated Press editor Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.

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