PARIS – French prosecutors investigating a party that former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn threw for his wife at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles will, in the next few weeks, ask judges to examine the case, bringing prosecution a step closer.
The prosecutors have been investigating whether Ghosn — now in Lebanon after fleeing last month from prosecution in Japan on financial misconduct charges — knowingly used company resources to throw the party for private purposes.
An official with the prosecutor’s office in Nanterre, near Paris, that has been handling the investigation said a judge or judges would be assigned to pursue the case over the Versailles party allegations.
Judges have wider powers than prosecutors to pursue a criminal case. They can, in certain circumstances, order the detention of a suspect pending trial, or issue an international arrest warrant if the suspect is abroad.
Asked to comment, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, a member of Ghosn’s legal team, said the former auto titan had done nothing wrong in relation to the party, but that there may have been a misunderstanding between Versailles and party planners working for Ghosn.
The lawyer said Ghosn had offered to pay back the €50,000 ($55,470) cost of renting the venue for the party.
“Carlos Ghosn is ready to answer French justice,” Le Borgne said. “Regarding his possible travel to France, things are complicated,” he added, citing a travel ban imposed by Lebanese prosecutors and an international Interpol notice posted by Japanese authorities seeking Ghosn’s arrest.
Renault did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ghosn was once a giant of the global auto industry but is now a fugitive from Japanese justice. He last month slipped out of Japan, where he was subject to strict bail conditions, managing to board a private jet to Turkey and from there flying to Lebanon, his childhood home.
He has said the Japanese charges were fabricated as part of a plot to oust him from the Renault-Nissan alliance.
The party at Versailles, principal residence of generations of French kings until the French Revolution of 1789, took place on Oct. 8, 2016. Ghosn said it was to mark the 50th birthday of his wife, Carole.
The case revolves around whether Ghosn was aware that Renault would end up footing the bill.
Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing. He said the event was never presented as a corporate party, and he believed the venue was being offered free to him personally as a goodwill gesture by Versailles.
He said he was later surprised to find out that it cost €50,000 and that the amount had been deducted from an allocation for use of Versailles that Renault had been given in exchange for financing a renovation of the chateau.
However, a spokeswoman for Versailles Palace said it was clear at the time the party took place that the event was presented as corporate in nature, and that the ultimate client the venue was dealing with was Renault-Nissan.
“There was nothing which would allow us to believe this dinner was anything other than a corporate event.”
She said that Versailles had documents demonstrating the parties were presented as corporate events and that Versailles was ready to share them with investigators. She declined to disclose the documents to Reuters.