Carlos Ghosn expects a fair trial in France after the arrest warrant

Former Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn is in an ongoing legal battle over allegations of financial misconduct.

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Carlos Ghosn has said he would receive a “fair trial” in France after being issued an arrest warrant in the latest in a series of charges against the disgraced former car exec.

Speaking to CNBC in Beirut on Friday, Ghosn said he trusts the French justice system to treat him correctly, even if he doesn’t get the same treatment from the media and wider society.

“I think yes, I can get a fair trial,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

“I won’t get fair treatment, but I will get a fair trial,” he said, citing apparently disproportionate media coverage of lavish parties and excessive spending during his tenure as auto CEO.

French authorities on Thursday issued an international arrest warrant for the former Renault-Nissan executive, who is known to have skipped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon in a box.

The warrant is related to an investigation into allegations of 15 million euros ($16.2 million) in suspicious payments between Renault and an Omani car dealership during Ghosn’s tenure. The allegations relate to misappropriation of company assets, corruption and money laundering.

Arrest warrants have also been issued for four other people, including current owners or former directors of Suhail Bahwan Automobiles.

It’s the latest in a string of allegations against the ex-auto industry boss, who was first arrested in Japan in November 2018 and charged with multiple financial misdeeds while running Nissan. Ghosn denies all allegations.

“Suspicious” timing

Ghosn said Friday he was not surprised by the arrest warrant, describing it as part of the “natural process” for French investigators. However, he said he was surprised to hear about it, not from authorities but in a newspaper.

“What surprised me is the fact that I found out about it by reading an American newspaper,” he said, referring to the Wall Street Journal, which published the news Thursday.

Ghosn added that the timing of the warrant was “suspicious” given the upcoming French presidential election this Sunday.

Both President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen have taken a tough stance on CEO pay ahead of Sunday’s runoff for the presidency as public scrutiny over the pay of France’s top bosses increases. The French government is also Renault’s largest shareholder.

When asked about the timing of the warrant, he said he couldn’t speculate.

“I don’t know. I can’t speculate on that. Honestly, the timing is beyond suspicious. You know, why do you want to do it today? Why do you do it Friday? Why can’t you do it Monday, I mean? That is something that has been going on for years,” he said.

Spokesmen for the French Ministry of Justice and the French government were not immediately available when approached by CNBC for comment.

Still, Ghosn said he expects each hearing to be independent, regardless of who wins.

“Fortunately, the judiciary in France is somehow independent of political power, which is obviously not the case in Japan,” he said. Ghosn has repeatedly criticized the Japanese legal system for continuing to prosecute him for alleged financial offenses during his tenure at the helm of Nissan.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, have refuted Ghosn’s claims and defended the country’s judicial system as “fair and open”. The Japanese Ministry of Justice published a 3,000-word article in 2020 outlining questions and answers on the treatment of criminals. A spokesman for Japan’s Justice Ministry was not immediately available when contacted by CNBC for comment.

Ghosn’s spokesman said earlier on Friday that he would like to face a court in France to clear his name. Nevertheless, the feasibility remains doubtful.

Ghosn is not allowed to leave Lebanon as he is still the subject of an extradition request from Japan. Although this application is unlikely to be approved, his passport is currently with the Lebanese authorities.

The Brazilian-born auto titan grew up in Beirut and is a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon.
As a Lebanese citizen, he is protected from extradition. Carlos Ghosn expects a fair trial in France after the arrest warrant

Chrissy Callahan

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