Carlos Ghosn, stuck in Beirut, says he is ready to be questioned by French investigators
BEIRUT – Carlos Ghosn, a fugitive former auto executive, said he was satisfied with his life in Lebanon and ready for his next challenge – dealing with a team of French investigators who plan to interview him next week on the payments he made at the head of Renault HER
In late 2019, Mr Ghosn escaped trial in Japan over allegations of financial mischief at the head of Nissan Motor Co.
fleeing the country in a concert box. In an interview, he said he was preparing for the voluntary meeting with French investigators through sessions of several hours with his lawyers.
“I couldn’t wait to be there,” he said from an antique armchair in a boutique hotel here. “I wish they had come a lot sooner.”
As the center of gravity of Mr Ghosn’s legal danger shifts from Japan to France, the 67-year-old denies wrongdoing in both cases. He also said he does not regret the year and a half he spent trapped in his childhood home in Lebanon. In addition to working on his legal defenses, Mr. Ghosn spends one day a week organizing a business class at a local university. He goes for a hike with friends in the mountains around Beirut and plays bridge online.
Mr Ghosn has long said he fled Japan because he did not believe he could get a fair trial there after his arrest in 2018. He now says he is no longer sure he will get a fair hearing in France either. French authorities seized millions of dollars in assets held by Mr Ghosn and his wife during the investigation.
“I’ll see”, he said, about his treatment by the French justice. “I will judge on the facts.” He described France’s decision to freeze its assets as a method to “weaken my defense”. The French authorities claim that the seizures are proportionate to the allegations they are investigating.
Mr Ghosn’s escape canceled a scheduled trial in Tokyo, where he was accused of abusing his position as head of Nissan for personal gain and conspiring to hide part of his deferred compensation, charges that he denies.
Lebanon does not extradite its citizens, so the trial is suspended indefinitely. But a series of other resulting legal proceedings around the world are gathering pace. France is investigating whether Mr Ghosn abused his position as Renault’s chief executive when he hosted two evenings on the grounds of Versailles, the opulent former palace of King Louis XIV.
He is also investigating whether Mr Ghosn funneled millions of dollars in corporate funds through a distributor for Nissan and Renault in Oman and to companies he controlled. Nissan and Renault make cars as part of an alliance Mr Ghosn led until his arrest.
Mr Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing on the Versailles parties, saying it was a public relations issue rather than a legal issue. He said the payments to the Omani distributor were legitimate incentives.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a court last week ordered Mr Ghosn to reimburse around $ 6 million in wages he was paid by an Amsterdam-based joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. Corp.
, another alliance company. The court ruled that the salary was not justified. Mr Ghosn – who initiated the proceedings – said he would appeal and owe him money.
In total, Mr Ghosn’s lawyers say he faces more than two dozen cases or judicial inquiries triggered by Japan’s allegations and his departure from Nissan and Renault, as well as his subsequent escape from the country. Japan. Mr. Ghosn cannot leave Lebanon. Interpol has issued a so-called Red Notice, alerting police and border control officials around the world that he is wanted by Japan. The authorities here hold his Lebanese passport.
Mr. Ghosn, who also holds French and Brazilian nationality, once led a jet-set life. He was a regular at the annual mountain retreat for CEOs and world leaders in Davos, Switzerland. He has traveled extensively between homes in Brazil, France and Japan, as well as in Renault and Nissan operations around the world.
In the interview, he said he has no regrets about fleeing Japan and abandoning it all.
“I lost my other life, but I gained my freedom,” Ghosn said. He said the freedom was worth the legal and financial consequences, given he faced a trial that could have lasted years and charges carrying prison terms that could have lasted the rest of his life.
“I would have died in Japan,” he said. “I had finished.” Japan has said it would have received a fair trial had it remained in the country.
Three other former associates of Ghosn are still there, facing charges stemming from his arrest and escape. The trial of two Americans accused of orchestrating Mr. Ghosn’s spectacular escape begins next month. And his former Nissan assistant, Greg Kelly, is currently on trial for allegedly helping Mr. Ghosn conceal compensation. Mr. Kelly fights against these accusations.
“I’m looking at poor Greg Kelly, rotting in Japan,” Ghosn said. He said Mr Kelly was being unfairly prosecuted and cited his long-standing case as another reason for his decision to flee.
Mr. Ghosn visits his law firm twice a week. There he keeps a small, modest room, overlooking a school, where he organizes conference calls with his lawyers from around the world.
The French probe is a recent focus. Serge Tournaire, who began his career in the field of organized crime in Corsica, is leading this investigation. One of Mr Tournaire’s most recent investigations led to a five-year prison sentence for former French Prime Minister François Fillon, who was found guilty of financial misconduct. Mr. Fillon appealed.
Mr Tournaire was also involved in a case which led to a conviction and a multi-billion dollar fine against Swiss bank UBS Group AG for tax evasion. The bank then announced that it would appeal.
Mr Ghosn said his French legal team, led by Jean Tamalet of the white shoe firm of Atlanta King & Spalding LLP and prominent Paris lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne, had worked with him for five-hour sessions before. visit.
French authorities, meanwhile, have frozen a $ 7 million Paris apartment owned by his wife, a sprawling house outside the capital that Mr Ghosn owns with his ex-wife, and more than € 10 million. , the equivalent of about $ 12.2 million, of a bank account in Luxembourg that includes shares of Renault and the French utility Engie HER
among its holdings.
These assets will not be released until the French probes are resolved. The French authorities have allowed Mr. Ghosn to continue to receive his state-funded pension, which amounts to approximately € 7,000, or approximately $ 8,500, per month.
Another court case is unfolding closer to home. Mr Ghosn is fighting in court here to stay in a historic pink mansion that was bought and renovated with Nissan money. Mr Ghosn, who has lived in the house since arriving in Lebanon, said he was promised this as part of his retirement program. Nissan has said it is the rightful owner of the property and the automaker is trying to get Mr. Ghosn evicted.
Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected]
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