Nanterre, France: French authorities have issued an international arrest warrant for disgraced former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, who has lived in Lebanon since his daring getaway from Japan in 2019. The warrant, issued on Thursday, relates to suspect payments of some 15 million euros ($16.3 million) between the Renault-Nissan alliance that Ghosn once headed and its dealer in Oman, Suhail Bahwan Automobiles (SBA), prosecutors told AFP on Friday.

The allegations against Ghosn, 68, include misuse of company assets, money laundering and corruption. The auto tycoon-who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports-was initially due to stand trial in Japan, following his detention there in 2018, but he jumped bail and fled to Lebanon. The international arrest warrant issued on Thursday by a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre is a strong message to Lebanon, which does not extradite its citizens and has banned Ghosn from leaving its territory. If the warrant is carried out, Ghosn will be summoned before a judge in Nanterre and formally indicted.

The French probe centers on suspect financial dealings between Renault-Nissan's Dutch subsidiary RNBV and SBA, consultancy work involving RNBV and a former government minister, and lavish parties organized at the Versailles Palace in France. One of Ghosn's lawyers, Jean Tamalet, told AFP the French warrant was "very surprising because the investigating judge and the Nanterre prosecutor know perfectly well that Carlos Ghosn, who has always cooperated with justice, is subject to a judicial ban on leaving Lebanese territory".

The investigating judge in Nanterre has also issued arrest warrants for the SBA company founder, his two sons and the former director-general, sources close to the case told AFP. The four are suspected of corruption and money laundering. SBA founder Suhail Bahwan "formally denies having taken any part in the offenses covered by the arrest warrant", his lawyer, Christophe Ingrain, told AFP.

'Major development'

Renault, which is a civil party in the case, said it "took note" of the Nanterre prosecutors' move. "This is a major development which can be explained in part by the severity of new information that has come to light ... concerning hidden financial dealings worth several million euros between Carlos Ghosn and SBA's founders and bosses," Renault lawyer Kami Haeri told AFP.

The Ghosn saga has grabbed headlines worldwide. In November 2018, Ghosn-then boss of Nissan and head of an alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors-was detained in Japan on suspicion of financial misconduct along with his top aide, Greg Kelly. They both denied wrongdoing. In December 2019 as he awaited trial, Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan on a private jet, hidden in an audio equipment case, and flown to Beirut.

He justified his escape to Lebanon by saying he did not believe he would get a fair trial in Tokyo. Ghosn also accused Nissan of colluding with prosecutors to have him arrested in a "palace coup" because he had sought to strengthen the Japanese firm's alliance with Renault.

'Stab in the back'

In 2020 Interpol issued a "red notice", advising Beirut that Ghosn was a fugitive from Japan and was wanted by the Tokyo authorities for prosecution. Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan, has not arrested him. He is respected in Lebanon for his entrepreneurial skills and gives lectures at the Saint-Esprit de Kaslik University near Beirut. But he remains discreet and steers clear of commenting on the country's political and economic upheavals.

French officials have twice travelled to Beirut in the course of their investigations, questioning Ghosn in 2021. Meanwhile, his former aide Kelly was last month handed a six-month suspended sentence by a Tokyo court over allegations he helped Ghosn attempt to conceal income.

Prosecutors had sought two years in prison for Kelly, accusing him of helping Ghosn under-report his income to the tune of 9.1 billion yen ($79 million) between 2010 and 2018. The court only found Kelly guilty for the financial year 2017. In an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien in February, Ghosn hit out at what he said was a "stab in the back by the French government and the Renault board of directors". French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire declined on Friday to comment on the latest developments, telling BFMTV/RMC radio: "Let justice take its course." - AFP