French investigators probe former Renault-Nissan chief Ghosn in Lebanon

Carlos Ghosn faces potential charges in France but fears that leaving Lebanon could land him back in Japan. PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (AFP) - French investigators interrogated former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn on Monday in Lebanon, where he has sought refuge since a dramatic escape from Japan, a court source said.

Ghosn, his defence team, a Lebanese prosecutor sitting in on the hearing and the visiting French judges met on Monday in the Court of Cassation where the interrogation over alleged fraudulent activities went under way, the source said.

A separate Lebanese judicial source said the hearing ended shortly before 6pm and will resume every day until Friday from 10am until 6pm with a lunch break.

The 67-year-old Ghosn faces scrutiny from French investigators centring on alleged improper financial interactions with Renault-Nissan's distributor in Oman, payments by a Dutch subsidiary to consultants and parties organised at the Versailles Palace.

Mr Jean Tamalet, one of Ghosn's lawyers, said that on Monday that his client was able for the first time to defend himself since his arrest in Japan in 2018 on suspicion of financial misconduct.

"It's the very first time that our client can explain himself in front of judges with his lawyers seated near him and after preparing his defence," he told reporters at the end of the hearing.

Another defence lawyer, Mr Jean Yves Le Borgne, said this was the "opportunity that Ghosn had been waiting for".

"It shows that the accusations against him are unfounded," he added.

Ghosn - who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports - was released on bail with a ban on leaving Japan which he violated when he fled purportedly hidden in an audio equipment case in late 2019.

He faces potential charges in France but fears that leaving Lebanon could land him back in Japan, despite the fact that France does not extradite its citizens.

Ghosn has long maintained that he would not have been given a fair trial in Japan.

Several French judges and investigators therefore made the trip to Lebanon.

"The defence team has already identified serious procedural irregularities in the French dossiers," a statement by Ghosn's lawyers said.

"These abnormalities, which undermine the judicial process, are the result of the peculiar methods of the Japanese investigation, which is the primary source for building the French cases," the statement said.

Ghosn is being heard as a witness and would need to be in France to be formally indicted and gain access to the details of the charges he faces.

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