Carlos Ghosn says he will get fair trial in France, arrest warrant suggests timing ‘suspicious’

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

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Carlos Ghosn has said he would receive a “fair trial” in France after receiving a warrant for his arrest in the latest of a series of charges against the disgraced former car executive.

Ghosn told CNBC in Beirut on Friday that he was confident that the French justice system would treat him fairly, even if he did not receive the same treatment from the media and wider society.

“I think 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 seemingly 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 chief executive who skipped Japan’s famous bail and fled to Lebanon in a box.

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

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

It is the latest in a series of allegations against the ex-automotive industry supremo, who was first arrested in Japan in November 2018 and charged with multiple financial misdeeds while running Nissan. Ghosn denies all charges.

‘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 the authorities, but in a newspaper.

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

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

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

When asked about the timing of the arrest warrant, he said he could not speculate.

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosn’s spokesman said earlier Friday that he would like to stand trial in France to clear his name. However, its feasibility remains questionable.

Ghosn has been banned from leaving Lebanon as he is still subject to an extradition request from Japan. While that request is unlikely to be granted, his passport is currently in the possession of the Lebanese authorities.

The Brazilian-born autotitan grew up in Beirut and is a national of Brazil, France and Lebanon.
As a Lebanese citizen, he is protected from extradition.



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