French magistrates question fugitive auto magnate in Beirut


BEIRUT — A team of French investigators began questioning fugitive former auto magnate Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on Monday over suspicions of financial misconduct, Lebanese judicial officials said.

The questioning at the Palace of Justice in Beirut was attended by members of the Lebanese judiciary, the officials said. They said seven French judges, most of them investigative magistrates and a prosecutor, were taking part in the questioning, which was attended by Lebanese prosecutor Imad Qabalan.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations

Ghosn’s Lebanese and French lawyers said in a statement earlier Monday that their client will be questioned by “French investigating judges, in the context of legal proceedings organized by the Lebanese judicial authorities.” The statement added that the “hearing is a voluntary step taken” by Ghosn.

During the questioning, which is expected to last several days, Ghosn will be assisted by one Lebanese and two French lawyers.

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

Lavish parties in Versailles, questionable payments to an Omani car dealer, suspected tax evasion — these are the subjects of multiple investigations in France involving Ghosn’s actions as the head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi car alliance. They were opened amid new scrutiny of Ghosn after his shocking 2018 arrest in Japan.

Ghosn had told the AP in an interview last week that he is campaigning to clear his name, and hopes the visit by French investigators to Lebanon will be his first real opportunity to defend himself since the bombshell arrest that transformed him from a visionary to a prisoner overnight.

Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 on accusations of financial misconduct and fled to Lebanon a year later. He now faces multiple legal challenges in France after the Japanese accusations triggered scrutiny of his activities there. Meanwhile, several associates are in jail or on trial in Japan and Turkey, in cases related to his financial activities or escape.

Ghosn, who fled Japan to Lebanon in early 2020, told the AP he has done nothing wrong and hopes their investigations are eventually dropped.

It is an unusual move for French magistrates to question a suspect abroad. Ghosn, who was given sanctuary by Lebanese authorities, grew up in Lebanon and has Lebanese citizenship. Lebanon will not extradite him.

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