By Simon Carraud and Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) – French prosecutors investigating a party that former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn threw for his wife at the sumptuous Versailles palace will in the next few weeks ask judges to examine the case, bringing a prosecution a step closer.
Prosecutors have been investigating whether Ghosn – now in Lebanon after he last month fled prosecution in Japan on financial misconduct charges – knowingly used company resources to throw a party that was for private purposes.
An official with the prosecutor’s office in Nanterre, near Paris, which has been handling the investigation, told Reuters a judge or judges would be assigned to pursue the case against Ghosn.
The judges have wider powers than prosecutors to pursue a criminal case. They can, in certain circumstances, order the detention of a suspect pending trial, or issue an international arrest warrant if the suspect is abroad.
Asked by Reuters to comment, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, one of Ghosn’s legal team, said Ghosn had done nothing wrong over the party, but there may have been a misunderstanding between Versailles and party planners working for Ghosn.
The lawyer said Ghosn had offered to pay back the 50,000 euros ($55,470) cost of renting the venue for the party.
“Carlos Ghosn is ready to answer French justice. Regarding his possible travel to France, things are complicated,” Le Borgne added, citing a travel ban imposed by Lebanese prosecutors, and an international Interpol notice requesting Ghosn’s arrest, as demanded by Japanese authorities.
Renault did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ghosn was once a giant of the global auto industry but is now a fugitive from Japanese justice. He last month slipped out of Japan, where he was subject to strict bail conditions, managing to board a private jet to Turkey and from there flying to Lebanon, his childhood home.
He says the Japanese charges were fabricated as part of a plot to oust him from the Renault-Nissan alliance.
HOME OF FRENCH KINGS
The party at Versailles, principal residence of generations of French kings until the French revolution of 1789, took place on Oct. 8, 2016. Ghosn said it was to mark the 50th birthday of his wife, Carole.
The case revolves around whether Ghosn was aware that Renault would end up footing the bill.
Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing. He said the event was never presented as a corporate party, and he believed the venue was being offered free to him personally as a goodwill gesture by Versailles.
He said he was later surprised to find out that it cost 50,000 euros and that the amount had been deducted from an allocation for the use of Versailles that Renault had been given in exchange for financing a renovation of the chateau.
However, a spokeswoman for Versailles Palace said it was clear at the time the party took place that the event was presented as corporate in nature, and that the ultimate client the venue was dealing with was Renault-Nissan.
“There was nothing which would allow us to believe this dinner was anything other than a corporate event.”
She said that Versailles had documents demonstrating the parties were presented as corporate events, and said that Versailles was ready to share them with investigators. She declined to disclose the documents to Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Simon Carraud, Elizabeth Pineau, Gwenaelle Barzic, Sarah White and Gilles Gillaume; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Potter)