PARIS (Reuters) -Carlos Ghosn was surprised by an international warrant sought by a French magistrate linked to an investigation into allegations of suspect money flows to an Omani dealership, a spokesman for the fugitive former Renault-Nissan boss said.
Ghosn, the architect of the Renault-Nissan automaking alliance, has been contesting several probes since fleeing in late 2019 to Lebanon from Japan, where he faced separate financial misconduct allegations.
“This is surprising, Ghosn has always co-operated with French authorities,” a spokesperson for Ghosn in France told Reuters on Friday in response to a report of the international arrest warrant in the Wall Street Journal.
Ghosn reiterated cricitism of the Japanese justice system in an interview with French BFM TV and said that he hoped one day to be able to be travel the world freely again.
“I must be presumed innocent,” he said, adding he hoped to be able to clear his name soon through the justice system.
Ghosn, who had denied any wrongdoing, remains in his childhood home, Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan and has a policy of not extraditing its nationals.
Ghosn holds passports from France, Lebanon and Brazil.
The Nanterre prosecutor’s office confirmed on Friday that five international arrest warrants for Ghosn and the current owners or former directors of the Omani company Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, a vehicle distributor in Oman, were issued by the investigative judge.
Bahwan’s lawyer said that his client denied having taken part in any way in the offences referred to in the warrant.
“He has already provided evidence of his innocence and is at the full disposal of the French justice system,” Christophe Ingrain said in a statement.
The Japanese investigation precipitated a fall from grace for Ghosn, who had lived a jet-set lifestyle with properties in Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Beirut before he was detained for months in a Tokyo custody centre and under home arrest.
He escaped Japan hidden in a box aboard a private jet.
At the time he was awaiting trial on charges that he understated his compensation in Nissan’s financial statements by 9.3 billion yen ($85 million) over a decade and enriched himself at his employer’s expense through payments to car dealerships.
French prosecutors allege Ghosn funneled millions of dollars of Renault funds through the Omani car distributor for his personal use, including for the purchase of a 120-foot yacht.
In early 2020, French prosecutors stepped up their investigation into Ghosn’s Omani dealings and a lavish party he threw at the Versailles palace in 2014.
Ghosn, who was chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi and chief executive of Renault when he was arrested in Japan in 2018, told Reuters last year that he was prepared for a lengthy process to clear his name with French authorities.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, John Irish and Sarah Morland; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough, Tomasz Janowski, Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)