Can French judges clear Carlos Ghosn’s name? He hopes so

BEIRUT — Former auto magnate Carlos Ghosn expects to get hit with at least one preliminary charge after French investigators travel to Beirut next week to question him over suspicions of financial misconduct. But he insists he’s done nothing wrong and hopes their investigations are eventually dropped.

Lavish parties in Versailles, questionable payments to an Omani car dealer, suspected tax evasion — these are the subjects of multiple investigations in France involving Ghosn’s actions as the head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi car alliance. They were opened amid new scrutiny of Ghosn after his shocking 2018 arrest in Japan.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he’s hoping that he has a better chance of defending himself in France than in Japan, which he fled in a brazen getaway in 2019.

“I have much more confidence in the French legal system than in the Japanese system,” he said Tuesday.

Still, he said he has no “illusions” that the cases would be immediately dropped.

“It would be a miracle if I weren’t handed preliminary charges on at least one count,” he said. “But … in the end, a judge will decide what’s true. My goal is to provide explanations, lay my documents on the table, let the investigating judges determine whether there is a case of misconduct or not and let justice follow its course.”

In an unusual move, French investigating magistrates are going to question Ghosn for several days starting Monday in Beirut, where he is being given sanctuary by Lebanese authorities. Ghosn grew up in Lebanon and has Lebanese citizenship, and Lebanon won’t extradite him.

He hasn’t yet been charged with anything in France, but could be given preliminary charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering, misuse of company assets, or aggravated breach of trust.

Ghosn says he asked for the voluntary hearing.

“If I’d wanted to lie low, I could have laid low … I want to say things that maybe the investigative judges haven’t had the chance to hear because, up until now, they’ve had a biased source of information,” he said. “I’m hoping that with my explanations and the documents that we have, we can influence the process.”

He dismissed separate accusations of tax evasion that have seen millions of euros of French assets frozen, saying that he was fully transparent with French authorities when he moved his tax residency to the Netherlands in 2012. He questioned why French authorities started investigating this decision only after his arrest.

The Japan arrest triggered scrutiny of Ghosn’s activities at France-based Renault, in which the French government has a 15% stake.

Ghosn claims that Nissan is trying to use the French investigations to punish Ghosn.

“When I escaped, they say, ‘OK you know, we’re going to let the French finish our job.’ … So they passed all the dossier to the French.”

In one case, France’s national financial prosecutor’s office is trying to determine who is at fault for alleged violations at Renault between 2009 and 2020. That includes “suspicious financial flows” between Renault and a car dealership in Oman, SBA, according to prosecutors. That probe is also targeting 11 million euros of travel and other costs paid by Renault-Nissan’s Netherlands-based holding company RNBV but suspected to have been for Ghosn’s personal use.

Ghosn says there was no wrongdoing.

In another probe, investigators in the Paris suburb of Nanterre are examining money spent on two parties at the nearby Chateau of Versailles. Ghosn denies they were personal affairs, though one happened to fall on his 60th birthday.

“There was no birthday cake. There were no songs. There were no presents for me,” he said.