Carlos Ghosn, stuck in Beirut, says he is ready to be questioned by French investigators

BEIRUT — Ex-fugitive car executive Carlos Ghosn said he’s satisfied with his life in Lebanon and ready for his next challenge — facing a team of French investigators who plan to interview him next week about the payments. ‘he performed as head of Renault HER


Mr Ghosn escaped a lawsuit in Japan at the end of 2019 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 had prepared for the voluntary meeting with French investigators through sessions lasting several hours with his lawyers.

“I was looking forward to it,” he said from an antique armchair in a boutique hotel here. “I would have liked them to come much earlier.

As the center of gravity of Mr Ghosn’s legal danger shifts from Japan to France, the 67-year-old denies any wrongdoing in both locations. 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 conducting a business class at a local university. He goes for a hike with friends in the mountains around Beirut, and he 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 of getting a hearing either. fair in France. French authorities seized millions of dollars in assets held by Mr Ghosn and his wife as part of 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 plotting to hide part of his deferred compensation, charges that he denies.

Lebanon does not extradite its citizens, so this trial is suspended indefinitely. But a series of other legal proceedings that have ensued around the world are gathering pace. France is trying to find out whether Mr. Ghosn abused his post as director general of Renault when he organized two parties on the grounds of Versailles, the opulent former palace of King Louis XIV.

Carlos Ghosn now lives in a house in Beirut. Nissan says he owns the house and wants to evict it.


Jacob Russell / Getty Images

He is also investigating whether Mr Ghosn funneled millions of dollars in corporate funds through a distributor for Nissan and Renault in Oman and 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 regarding 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 be owed money.

In total, Mr Ghosn’s lawyers say he faces more than two dozen lawsuits or investigations sparked by Japan’s allegations and his departure from Nissan and Renault, as well as his subsequent escape from 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 his homes in Brazil, France and Japan, as well as Renault and Nissan operations around the world.

In the interview, he said he has no regrets about fleeing Japan and giving up on it all.

“I lost my other life, but I gained my freedom,” Mr. 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 cover 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.

Pilot Noyan Pasin, holding rolled papers, was one of three Turkish nationals who in February were convicted of smuggling Carlos Ghosn into Turkey.


ozan kose / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

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 employee, Greg Kelly, is currently on trial for allegedly helping Mr. Ghosn conceal compensation. Mr. Kelly is fighting against these accusations.

“I’m looking at poor Greg Kelly, rotting in Japan,” Mr. 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 lawyer 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.

In an interview with WSJ’s Nick Kostov, Carlos Ghosn said he regretted not taking the opportunity to work in the United States in 2009, where he was not “crucified” for his salary. The former auto executive fled Japan, where he faces charges of financial embezzlement. Photo: Jacob Russell for The Wall Street Journal (video 1/10/20)

The French probe is a recent focus. Serge Tournaire, who began his career in 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 convicted of financial embezzlement. Mr. Fillon appealed.

Mr Tournaire was also involved in a case that 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, worked with him in five-hour sessions. before the 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 approximately $ 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. French authorities have allowed 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 plan. Nissan said it was the rightful owner of the property and the automaker was trying to get Mr. Ghosn evicted.

Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected]

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