French judicial investigators spoke with fugitive ex-auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn as a witness Wednesday in Beirut ahead of further questioning next week, two sources said.

The hearing came before French magistrates officially question Ghosn, who holds Lebanese, French and Brazilian citizenship, on Monday over other judicial inquiries lodged against him in France.

“Six French judges, including public prosecutors and investigative judges, started listening to Ghosn’s witness testimony at 11:00 a.m.” on Wednesday, a Lebanese judicial source said.

A French source close to the case said the ex-Renault chief was being questioned as a “simple witness” over accusations that Renault cheated on pollution tests for diesel and petrol engines with the knowledge of top management.

In 2017, a report by French fraud investigators concluded that “the entire chain of management” of Renault, up to its chief executive Ghosn, were implicated in the suspected fraud.

French prosecutors are looking into whether he wrongly obtained use of the Palace of Versailles for his lavish 2016 wedding. Ghosn is also being investigated by France’s tax fraud office over suspicious financial transactions between Renault and its distributor in the Gulf state of Oman, as well as over contracts signed by Renault-Nissan’s Dutch subsidiary RNBV.

One Renault shareholder filed a lawsuit against Ghosn in Paris suburb Nanterre last week over “significant sums” transferred to RNBV “without investors’ knowledge”, the investor’s lawyer Jean-Paul Baduel said Wednesday.

Claiming tens of millions of euros were sent to the Dutch subsidiary, the suit argues that “particular care was taken to cover up (the payments) and the fact they were ordered by Carlos Ghosn”.

Baduel claimed the cash transfers amounted to a “slush fund” at RNBV.

Spokespeople for Ghosn did not comment on the lawsuit when contacted.

The former executive was supposed to meet French judicial investigators in Beirut in January, but the meetings were postponed because of travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was arrested in Japan in November 2018 over allegations of financial misconduct, and spent 130 days in detention before jumping bail and smuggling himself out of the country in late 2019.

Wanted by Interpol, Ghosn is effectively trapped in Lebanon, even as others face court over their links to his case.

Japan has urged him to return and face trial, while Lebanon has asked Japan to hand over his file in relation to the financial misconduct charges.

Ghosn is currently beyond the reach of the Japanese courts and leads a comparatively quiet life, mostly in his Beirut home.

He recently released a book setting out his side of his case.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.