Renault said to flag Ghosn’s Oman payments to authorities

Nissan and Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn. (Bloomberg pic)

PARIS: Renault has alerted French prosecutors to payments made by former head Carlos Ghosn to a distributor in Oman following reports that the money may have been used to repay personal debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

The payments totalled millions of euros, said the people, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.

French newspaper Le Figaro reported earlier that Renault paid the Oman-based distributor through a special cost centre overseen by Ghosn rather than through marketing and sales divisions. The information was provided to Renault by partner Nissan Motor, the newspaper said.

“We strongly deny allegations of wrongdoing in Oman,” a spokesman for the Ghosn family said by phone. A spokeswoman for the French prosecutor’s office said Renault on March 29 added many documents in support of an ongoing investigation, but she declined to provide details. Renault declined to comment.

Ghosn’s Paris-based lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said he wasn’t aware of Renault reporting any payments to the French prosecutor.

An Oman-based Nissan supplier had received bonuses that were related to its performance, he said.

Exclusive distributor

The move by Renault follows reports over the past months about Nissan’s relationship with Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, which has been the French carmaker’s exclusive distributor in Oman since 2004.

An internal probe by Nissan into its finances raised questions around the company, one of the people said.

In January, Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported that Ghosn paid US$32 million and US$16 million to Nissan suppliers run by two acquaintances in Oman and Lebanon.

The payments were made from the cash reserve at the centre of breach of trust allegations against Ghosn, the newspaper said, adding that Tokyo prosecutors suspected Ghosn may have used Nissan’s “CEO reserve” fund for personal purposes.

French magazine L’Express has reported that Japanese prosecutors were investigating the possibility that Ghosn borrowed US$30 million from billionaire Bahwan, based on a document that was found in Ghosn’s apartment in Japan. A Suhail Bahwan spokesperson couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.

Versailles party

The Oman payments mark the second time Renault has signalled possible wrongdoing by the fallen executive to authorities.

In February, the company disclosed Ghosn may have improperly used a sponsorship deal to host a party at the Palace of Versailles. Ghosn’s family has said he would reimburse 50,000 euros (US$56,000) to the palace. The investigation is still ongoing, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Renault is carrying out an internal probe into its finances and the pay of top managers following Ghosn’s arrest in November.

The 65-year-old former executive has denied charges in Japan that he improperly used Nissan company funds. Renault and Nissan also began a joint audit of the Dutch company that oversees their partnership, RNBV.

The Renault probe also found that Ghosn had the use of four RNBV jets, one of the people said, adding that this hasn’t been flagged to authorities. Ghosn was arrested in Japan after landing in Tokyo on one of the airplanes.