France has issued an international arrest warrant for Carlos Ghosn, the auto tycoon who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon in a sensational getaway.
The warrant was issued over 15 million euros ($16.3m) in suspect payments between the Renault-Nissan alliance that Ghosn once headed and an Omani company, Suhail Bahwan Automobiles (SBA), prosecutors in the Paris suburb of Nanterre told AFP news agency on Friday.
Ghosn, then-chief of Nissan and head of an alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, was detained in Japan in November 2018 on suspicion of financial misconduct along with his top aide, Greg Kelly.
They both denied wrongdoing.
In December 2019, as he awaited trial, Ghosn staged an audacious getaway, being smuggled out of Japan in an audio equipment case on a private jet.
Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, landed in Beirut, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.
He said he fled because he did not believe he would get a fair trial in Japan, where prosecutors have a nearly 99 percent conviction rate in cases that go to trial.
He also said that Nissan colluded with prosecutors to have him arrested because he wanted to deepen the Japanese firm’s alliance with Renault.
Later on Friday, Ghosn’s spokesperson said the former Nissan chief was “surprised” by reports of his international arrest warrant.
“This is surprising, Ghosn has always co-operated with French authorities,” a spokesperson for Ghosn told Reuters news agency.
One of his lawyers, Jean Tamalet, told AFP that 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 Nanterre judge heading the investigation issued five arrest warrants that, in addition to Ghosn, target the current and former leaders of SBA.
Last year, Ghosn said he was prepared for a lengthy process to clear his name with French authorities, and said he would challenge an Interpol warrant that is barring him from travel outside of Lebanon.
In February last year, a Turkish court convicted two pilots and an official from a private airline over their involvement in the getaway.
The court in Istanbul sentenced each of them to four years and two months in prison. It acquitted two other pilots of the charge of “illegally smuggling a migrant”. Two flight attendants were also acquitted of failing to report a crime.