PARIS – French prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant on Friday for Carlos Ghosn, the former chief executive of Nissan and Renault who is living as a fugitive from the Japanese justice system, as part of an investigation into alleged abuse of corporate assets and money laundering.
French authorities are interested in nearly 15 million euros (about $ 16.2 million) in suspected payments made between the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi auto alliance and its car distributor in Oman, Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, or SBA. They say that Mr. Ghosn abused his position as head of the world’s biggest carmaker to channel millions of euros in Renault funds through the Omani operation for his personal use, including the purchase of a 120-foot yacht.
The arrest warrant was one of five issued on Friday against Mr. Ghosn and current owners or former managers of the SBA, said a spokesperson for the French public prosecutor’s office in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, which has been conducting the investigation.
Mr. Ghosn, a onetime titan of the automotive industry who holds French and Lebanese passports, has been living as a fugitive in Lebanon since 2019, when he fled across the globe, traveling part of the trip hidden in a box, to escape what he called “ injustice and political persecution ”in Japan. The authorities there had arrested him in late 2018 on charges of financial misconduct, including underreporting his income to evade taxes while heading Nissan.
An internal review by Nissan at the time found that from 2011 to 2018, Mr. Ghosn authorized over $ 30 million in discretionary payments to a business partner in Oman. Mr. Ghosn’s representatives have insisted that the payments were for business purposes only.
Mr. Ghosn’s flight to Lebanon was strategic: The country does not have extradition treaties with Japan or France, meaning the authorities do not need to honor their arrest requests.
France has been conducting its own investigation parallel to that in Japan, and prosecutors visited Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, twice in the past year to question Mr. Ghosn. He would need to travel to France to be formally indicted and to gain access to the details of the charges made against him.
Mr. Ghosn, who has repeatedly said that his arrest was part of an internal coup by Nissan to oust him, has previously said he was eager to clear his name with French authorities. His lawyer said Mr. Ghosn was surprised to learn of the French charges because he had been cooperating with investigators, according to Agence France-Presse.
In addition to investigating Mr. Ghosn’s ties to the distributor in Oman, French prosecutors are also examining a Dutch corporate entity that Mr. Ghosn led, Renault-Nissan BV, which Japanese authorities have said he used to finance extra benefits for himself, including acquiring several homes with Nissan money and throwing a lavish wedding party for himself and his bride in 2016 at Versailles Palace.
Last month, a Japanese court convicted Mr. Ghosn’s American former deputy at Nissan, Greg Kelly, of helping him conceal part of his compensation from regulators.
A judge sentenced Mr. Kelly to six months in jail for his role in hiding Mr. Ghosn’s pay during one fiscal year, but cleared him of involvement in similar efforts during other periods spanning almost a decade. The sentence was suspended for three years, allowing Mr. Kelly to walk free.