French investigators begin questioning Carlos Ghosn in Beirut

Former Nissan boss escaped from Japan to Lebanon after his arrest over accusations of financial misconduct

Former Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn speaks during an interview with the Associated Press, in Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Lebanese judicial officials say a team of French investigators have begun questioning Ghosn in Beirut Monday, May 31, 2021, over suspicions of misconducts. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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Seven French judges have begun questioning former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on charges of financial misconduct, his lawyers said.

They are looking into allegations of financial impropriety in France, including a party thrown at the Palace of Versailles, irregularities with a Renault-Nissan distributor in Oman and the activities of a Dutch subsidiary of the car firm.

Mr Ghosn's legal team said it had uncovered “serious procedural irregularities” in the French investigation and that its client's participation was a “voluntary step”.

“These abnormalities, which undermine the judicial process, are the result of the peculiar methods of the Japanese investigation, which is the primary source for building the French cases,” Mr Ghosn's lawyers said in a statement on Monday.

Mr Ghosn is being interviewed only as a witness, and cannot be formally indicted unless in France. Only then would he be made aware of the details of charges against him.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Mr Ghosn claimed it was his first opportunity to clear his name, adding that he had far more confidence in the French legal system than Japan’s.

“Now I will be speaking in French, and I’ll have my lawyers present. Of course, I have much more confidence in the French legal system than in the Japanese system,” he told the news agency.

The hearings are expected to continue until Saturday, with Lebanese prosecutor Imad Qabalan also attending.

Mr Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, is facing legal cases relating to financial impropriety during his time as the chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi. He denies all wrongdoing, and has vowed to co-operate with the French investigation to clear his name.

Initial complaints by Japanese authorities sparked investigations into his affairs in Europe, although Mr Ghosn has yet to be charged with any crime in France. Several of his associates have been jailed in Turkey and in Japan.

Mr Ghosn was arrested in Japan in 2018, but escaped the country a year later in an audio equipment box with the help of a former US Special Forces soldier before arriving in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have refused to extradite him.

He claims he would not be given a fair trial in Japan.

In October, he helped launch a new business studies programme at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, occasionally lecturing in person at the school just north of Beirut.