French magistrates question fugitive auto magnate in Beirut

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Members of Carlos Ghosn's defense team, lawyer Jean Yves Le Borgne, center, and Jean Tamalet, right, leave the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, May 31, 2021. A team of French investigators began questioning ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on Monday over suspicions of financial misconduct, Lebanese judicial officials said. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT – Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn sat before French investigative judges in Beirut who questioned him for several hours Monday over suspicions of financial misconduct. His defense lawyers called it “a very important day” for the auto magnate-turned-fugitive.

The meeting marked the first opportunity for Ghosn to defend himself against the French allegations —- including spending on lavish parties and private planes — since his 2018 bombshell arrest in Japan and escape to Lebanon a year later.

“It is an occasion that Mr. Ghosn has waited for a long time to show that the accusations brought against him are baseless,” Jean Yves Le Borgne, a member of Ghosn's defense team, told reporters in Beirut. He said the questioning was expected to last several days.

The questioning at the Palace of Justice in Beirut lasted about six hours, including a lunch break. Ghosn did not make any comments to reporters and Lebanese security forces kept journalists away from the gate where he entered and exited the courthouse.

Ghosn is campaigning to clear his name against multiple legal challenges in France after Japanese accusations triggered scrutiny of his activities there. In a wide ranging interview with The Associated Press last week, he said he hopes the visit by French investigators to Lebanon will be his first real opportunity to defend himself. He also said he had much more confidence in the French legal system than the Japanese system he had fled.

Ghosn has not so far been charged with anything in France, but could be, given preliminary accusations of fraud, corruption, money laundering, misuse of company assets, or aggravated breach of trust.

The French investigators are looking into the financing of lavish parties Ghosn threw at the Versailles Palace — complete with period costumes and copious Champagne — as the head of the Renault-Nissan car alliance. They're also examining 11 million euros in spending on private planes and events arranged by a Dutch holding company, and subsidies to a car dealership in Oman.

Ghosn told the AP he has done nothing wrong and hopes the investigations are eventually dropped.