France issues arrest warrant for disgraced auto tycoon Ghosn

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FILE - Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon on May 25, 2021. French prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for disgraced auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn, who fled Japan in 2019 for Lebanon in a gripping escape. The Ghosn warrant is based on an investigation opened in 2019 into money laundering and abuse of company assets reportedly over millions in alleged suspect payments made between the Renault-Nissan alliance and Suhail Bahwan Automobiles (SBA), a vehicle distributor company in Oman owned by billionaire Suhail Bahwan. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

PARIS – French prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for disgraced auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn, who fled Japan in 2019 for Lebanon in a gripping escape.

The prosecutor's office in the Paris suburb of Nanterre said Friday that it issued the warrant for the former head of Nissan and Renault and four other people based on an investigation opened in 2019 into money laundering and abuse of company assets.

Prosecutors are investigating millions of dollars in alleged suspect payments made between the Renault-Nissan alliance and Suhail Bahwan Automobiles (SBA), a vehicle distributor company in Oman.

The former head of the Nissan-Renault alliance fled to Lebanon in 2019, while out on bail facing financial misconduct charges in Japan. He denies wrongdoing.

Ghosn said he learned about the new warrant Friday via the media, and noted that he's barred from leaving Lebanon anyway.

“I'm ready to defend myself," he told France's BFM television. He repeatedly insisted that he did not receive any money from the Oman distributor and that there was “no embezzling.”

Later Friday, Ghosn told Lebanese TV station Al-Jadeed that he questioned the timing of the arrest warrant and added that he had planned a long time ago to retire in Lebanon.

“The timing is surprising. A warrant like that is issued two days before the (French) presidential election?” Ghosn said. “This makes us a bit suspicious. There is bad smell.”

Asked whether he might trigger a crisis between France and Lebanon, Ghosn said: “I don’t think so. I think there has to be an understanding between the two countries.”

He said French and Japanese judicial authorities should cooperate with Lebanese authorities and send the cases to Beirut and judicial authorities in Lebanon can see if there was any wrongdoing. He said otherwise there will be trial in France in his absence.

The Nanterre prosecutors’ office described this warrant as the next step in the ongoing investigation, one of two separate cases involving Ghosn in France.

In an interview last year with The Associated Press, Ghosn was confident, energized and determined to fight to restore his reputation.

A statement sent Friday to the AP from his PR team called the French warrant “surprising,” and suggested that it was ineffective as Ghosn “is subject to a judicial ban on leaving Lebanese territory."

Lebanon does not extradite its citizens. Ghosn has citizenship in Lebanon, France and Brazil.