Lawyers claim Ghosn took millions from Nissan-Mitsubishi venture

Carlos Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing and launched court cases against the companies, arguing he was fired unlawfully.

Carlos Ghosn
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, pictured at a news conference last month in Lebanon, allegedly paid himself a salary and bonus worth 7.3 million euros ($8m) through a Nissan-Mitsubishi joint venture without the companies' knowledge [Reuters/Mohamed Azakir]

Carlos Ghosn, the former auto executive turned international fugitive, used a joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi to inflate his pay, offset a cut in his publicly-declared earnings, and cover a personal tax debt, lawyers for the companies said on Monday.

Ghosn, former chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, was arrested in Japan in 2018 on financial misconduct charges but fled to Lebanon last December. Lawyers for the companies are claiming that he granted himself a salary and bonus worth 7.3 million euros ($8m) in total without the knowledge of the boards of Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing, including concerning the way he was compensated, and has since launched court cases against the companies, arguing he was fired unlawfully. One of the cases is in the Netherlands, where Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Corp – both Japanese companies – made new submissions on Monday.

The lawyers alleged in the arguments submitted to the Dutch court that Ghosn had awarded himself the compensation through the Nissan-Mitsubishi joint venture. 

Representatives of Ghosn’s legal team said the allegations of unknown or unjust payments were unfounded. They attended the Amsterdam District Court hearing, which was linked to Ghosn’s unlawful dismissal lawsuit.

“We don’t dispute that Mr Ghosn received a good salary,” lawyer Roeland de Mol said. “But he had the heavy task of getting French and Japanese companies to cooperate. He didn’t retire to go play golf after he stepped down as Nissan CEO.”

Nissan-Mitsubishi lawyer Eelco Meerdink said there was also evidence that Ghosn made the alliance pay a personal French tax debt of 498,000 euros ($545,000) in 2018, and that he had arranged a “prepayment” of his 2019 salary in 2018 to avoid a scheduled increase in Dutch income tax rates.

The allegations came as Ghosn’s legal team challenged his dismissal by Nissan and Mitsubishi during the court hearing in Amsterdam, the first public session on the case after the former executive launched a suit against the companies last July.

Ghosn is seeking 15 million euros ($16.4m) in damages from the Japanese carmakers – companies that, he alleges, violated Dutch labour laws.

Ghosn’s lawyers argued for the release of internal documents relating to his dismissal following a Nissan-Mitsubishi inquiry, which the carmakers used to substantiate his dismissal on allegations of financial misconduct.

Ghosn’s legal team claims he was unfairly dismissed as chairman of Nissan-Mitsubishi BV, a Dutch-registered entity, because the details of the allegations were not shared with him. His lawyers say the documents will show the companies were aware of his activities.

“Nissan and Mitsubishi publicly shamed Ghosn,” de Mol told the court. “Their reports and accusations were never put to Ghosn. There was no due process.”

De Mol said he was pushing for “a full debate on the reasons of Ghosn’s dismissal” and added, “We need the information in his file to be able to do that. Mr. Ghosn is ready for a fight.”

Nissan-Mitsubishi lawyer Meerdink dismissed the demands by Ghosn’s legal team, saying the reasons for the executive’s dismissal were clear, and that his lawyers were “going on a fishing expedition”.

The Amsterdam court said it would postpone any decision on documents until Nissan and Mitsubishi file their case on the reasons for Ghosn’s dismissal – a filing that is expected on March 26.