Ex-Renault CEO Ghosn under scrutiny over 50,000-euro wedding

Joseph Schmid
1 / 2
Ghosn and his second wife Carole threw a Marie Antoinette-themed dinner and party at the former royal residence at Versailles, complete with entertainers in period costumes, on October 8, 2016

French carmaker Renault said Thursday that it would inform prosecutors about a transaction it uncovered involving its former boss Carlos Ghosn and the Palace of Versailles, where the auto executive held an extravagant wedding in 2016.

Ghosn's tenure as CEO has come under the microscope since his arrest last November in Japan on charges he under-reported millions of dollars in pay as head of Nissan, Renault's alliance partner.

His subsequent indictment on three charges of financial misconduct has led to renewed scrutiny of his management and lifestyle at both companies while he sits in a Tokyo jail awaiting trial.

The latest charges involve Ghosn's lavish second marriage at the Chateau de Versailles outside Paris in October 2016.

Ghosn and his new wife Carole threw a Marie Antoinette-themed dinner and party at the former royal residence complete with entertainers in period costumes.

"We wanted it to feel as if we were inviting guests into our home -- nothing too studied," Carole Ghosn told Town & Country magazine a few months later when it published photos of the wedding.

According to a report in the Figaro newspaper, the operators of the palace waived the usual fee of 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the reception at the 17th-century Grand Trianon complex.

It said the arrangement was made as part of a sponsorship deal between Versailles and Renault.

The company confirmed Thursday that internal audits "identified that a contribution of 50,000 euros, under a sponsorship agreement signed with the Chateau de Versailles, was allocated to Mr. Ghosn's personal benefit."

"Renault has decided to bring these facts to the attention of the judicial authorities," it added.

- 'Renault didn't spend anything' -

In a statement, the Chateau de Versailles said Renault had signed a 2.3-million-euro sponsorship deal with the palace in June 2016, a few months before Ghosn's wedding.

Under the terms of the deal, Renault could benefit in return from Versailles access and other services worth a maximum 25 percent of the deal, in this case around 575,000 euros, it said.

Prosecutors offices in Paris, the town of Versailles and the larger nearby city of Nanterre told AFP they had not yet received any information from Renault regarding the case as of yet.

Ghosn's lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne said that the former Renault CEO "paid all the expenses related to his wedding," and that "only the hall was made available for his use without being billed".

"Renault did not spend anything," he said in a statement, adding that Ghosn "did not know that the use of the hall would be accredited to Renault's usage rights".

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Thursday pledged "total transparency" in the review of Ghosn's time as head of Renault, in which the French state owns a 15 percent stake.

"The audit at Renault has begun and is starting to show results," he said at business fair in Paris.

- Betrayal? -

Ghosn's arrest and continued detention marked a stunning fall from grace for an executive widely credited with forging the Renault and Nissan alliance into the world's top-selling automotive group.

The 64-year-old Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese executive has angrily denied the misconduct charges against him, which saw Nissan and the group's other alliance partner Mitsubishi jettison him as chairman shortly after his arrest.

"I am accused of under-reporting income I never received! There is not one yen that I have received that was not reported," Ghosn told AFP in an interview at the Tokyo detention centre where he is being held last week.

"Is it a trap? Is it a plot? It's obvious: it's a story of betrayal. There is no question about this," he said.

So far Renault has said its internal investigations have found that his pay was in compliance with French law.

But facing the prospect of several more months behind bars before his trial opens, Ghosn last month relinquished his grip as CEO of Renault.

The affair has also exposed rifts between Renault and Nissan, which some analysts say was bristling at Ghosn's efforts to bring the two automakers' operations even closer together.

Ghosn was the lynchpin of the three-way alliance, earning industry plaudits for driving together a sometimes fractious threesome with headquarters 10,000 kilometres apart.

Much of the tension between the partners stems from a complex ownership structure that gives Renault 43 percent of Nissan, whereas Nissan owns just 15 percent stake in the French company -- and no voting rights.