Carlos Ghosn says he expects a fair trial in France after arrest warrant issued

Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of Nissan, is in an ongoing legal battle over allegations of financial misconduct.

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Carlos Ghosn said he will face a “fair trial” in France after he was issued an arrest warrant on the latest in a series of charges against the disgraced former auto industry executive.

Speaking to CNBC on Friday in Beirut, Ghosn said he trusts the French justice system to treat him properly, even if he has not received the same treatment from the media and society at large.

“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 the apparently disproportionate media coverage of lavish parties and excessive spending during his tenure as CEO of a car company.

French authorities on Thursday issued an international arrest warrant for the former Renault-Nissan executive who is known not to have been released on bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon in a box.

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

Four others, including current owners or former directors of Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, also received arrest warrants.

This is the latest in a series of charges brought against the former auto industry executive, who was first arrested in Japan in November 2018 and charged with multiple financial misconduct while driving Nissan. Ghosn denies all allegations.

“Suspicious” time

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

“What surprised me was that I found out about it by reading in an American newspaper,” he said, referring to wall Street Journal, which broke the news on 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 hard line on CEO salaries ahead of Sunday’s presidential election as public scrutiny of remuneration for France’s top bosses intensifies. The French government is also Renault’s largest shareholder.

When asked about the time frame for issuing an arrest warrant, he said he could not speculate.

“I don’t know. I can’t speculate on that. To be honest, the timing is more than suspicious. Do you know why you want to do it today? Why Friday? Why can’t you do it Monday, I mean? that went on for years,” he said.

Representatives from the French Ministry of Justice and the French government were not immediately available when CNBC contacted them for comment.

However, Ghosn said he expects any hearing to be independent, regardless of who wins.

“Fortunately, in France, justice is somehow independent of political power, which is obviously not the case in Japan,” he said. Ghosn has repeatedly criticized the Japanese legal system as it continues to prosecute him for alleged financial misconduct during his time at the helm of Nissan.

Meanwhile, Japanese officials refuted Ghosn’s claims, defending the country’s justice system as “honest and open”. In 2020, the Japanese Ministry of Justice published a 3,000-word article outlining questions and answers about the treatment of criminals. A spokesman for the Japanese Ministry of Justice was not immediately available when CNBC contacted him for comment.

This was announced by a spokesman for Ghosn earlier on Friday. that he would be happy to stand trial in France to clear his name. However, the feasibility of this remains in question.

Ghosn is barred from leaving Lebanon as he is still under an extradition request from Japan. Although this request is unlikely to be approved, his passport is currently in the possession of the Lebanese authorities.

Born in Brazil, the automotive titan grew up in Beirut and is a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon.
As a Lebanese citizen, he is protected from extradition.

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