French judges step up Carlos Ghosn probe

Prosecutors look into palace party and dealings of former Renault boss

epa08212550 (FILE) - Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, 08 January 2020 (reissued 12 February 2020). Nissan filed a civil lawsuit at a Yokohama district court against its former chairman on 12 February 2020 seeking an initial amount of 90 million US dollars in damages.  EPA/NABIL MOUNZER *** Local Caption *** 55751754

French prosecutors have stepped up their investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds at Renault by former boss Carlos Ghosn, saying a judge had now been assigned to the case to launch a formal investigation.

The prosecutor's office in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, had since last year been looking into a party Mr Ghosn had thrown for his wife at the sumptuous Versailles palace, among other financial dealings.

On Wednesday it said a judge would examine several charges linked to Renault and levelled at an unidentified person or people. A judicial source confirmed that Mr Ghosn was among them.

One of his lawyers said the former top executive welcomed the opportunity to give his version of the events.

"We will provide our explanations to the designated magistrate after we can finally have access to the case file," Jean-Yves Le Borgne told Reuters.

Mr Ghosn, who fled to Lebanon at the end of last year from Japan where he faced charges of financial misconduct, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The prosecutor's office said the case involved suspect financial flows between Renault and a car dealership in Oman, as well as spending on trips and events.

Prosecutors had been looking into whether Mr Ghosn knowingly used company resources to throw the party for his wife's birthday in 2016.

His lawyers say he did nothing wrong but there may have been a misunderstanding between Versailles and party planners over who was to pay for renting the venue.

Another event at Versailles in 2014, when Mr Ghosn held a corporate party to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of Renault's alliance with Japan's Nissan, will also fall within the scope of the investigation, the source said.

The party was paid for by RNBV, a Dutch holding company for Renault and Nissan.

In January, Mr Ghosn rejected claims that most of the guests at the party were his friends and family, saying the companies had invited business contacts from dealerships and other partners.

Renault conducted its own inquiry into Mr Ghosn's time at the car maker and handed over information to prosecutors last year.

This included its probe into millions of euros described as dealer incentives to an Omani distributor.