French investigators issued international arrest warrants for former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn and four others who allegedly helped him siphon millions of euros from partner Renault SA.
One of the warrants targets billionaire Suhail Bahwan, who owns a vehicle distributor in Oman that prosecutors suspect was used to funnel Renault funds for Ghosn’s personal use, prosecutors from Nanterre, near Paris, said. The other warrants are against two of Bahwan’s sons and the former general manager of Suhail Bahwan Automobiles.
The warrants were issued on Thursday afternoon, prosecutors said. The one targeting Ghosn concerns a wide spectrum of allegations ranging from his interactions with the Omani car distributor to corporate spending on various events and trips that might have been personal.
Since Ghosn’s dramatic escape from Japan to Lebanon in late 2019, his main legal risks have largely shifted to France, where he is suspected of using Renault’s funds to pay for a yacht and his wife’s birthday celebration at the Versailles Palace. The warrants come after French investigators traveled to Beirut last year to question Ghosn and issued a summons for him to face possible charges in France.
International arrest warrants are typically issued by French investigators when a suspect living abroad doesn’t respond to a summons. It allows them to work with foreign agencies to make an arrest and commence extradition proceedings.
Japan also has an arrest warrant for Ghosn over charges of financial misconduct, but he is a Lebanese national and the country does not extradite its own citizens. He also has citizenship in France and Brazil.
While Ghosn escaped trial in Japan, former Nissan Director Greg Kelly was convicted in March of helping his ex-boss under report compensation in 2017. The two auto executives were arrested by Tokyo prosecutors on the same day in November 2018.
A lawyer for the former Renault boss called the French arrest warrant “surprising,” saying that his client is forbidden by Lebanese authorities from leaving the country.
“Carlos Ghosn has always cooperated with French judicial officials,” Jean Tamalet said by phone. Ghosn has previously denied the French allegations.
An attorney for Bahwan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported the warrants earlier on Friday.
Ghosn was in favor of being charged in the French investigation but legal complexities prevented that from taking place in Lebanon. An arrest warrant prevents him from having an input whereas charges would have given him status. They would have allowed his defense team to access evidence, lodge procedural challenges and petition for certain witnesses to be heard.
Contrary to Japan, Ghosn could be ordered to face trial in his absence in France.
In a separate French probe led by the Parquet National Financier, Ghosn is suspected of having ordered suspicious consultant payments for French politician and lawyer Rachida Dati and security expert Alain Bauer.
Tamalet also quipped about the context for the stepping up of the Nanterre probe against Ghosn.
“Hats off to the timing of the prosecution for the issuance of the arrest warrant,” the attorney said.
The move comes as French voters prepare to decide on Sunday whether to elect incumbent Emmanuel Macron or his nationalist rival, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential runoff ballot. Executive pay has been a hot topic during the campaign.