A team of French magistrates began questioning former Renault boss Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on Monday over suspicions of financial misconduct, Lebanese judicial officials said.
The meeting marks the first opportunity for the business mogul turned-fugitive to defend himself against French allegations of financial wrongdoing since his arrest in Japan three years ago, followed by his spectacular escape to Lebanon a year later.
The questioning at the Palace of Justice in Beirut is expected to last several days. Seven French judges were taking part in the hearing, which was also attended by a Lebanese prosecutor.
It is an unusual move for French magistrates to travel abroad to question a suspect.
French magistrates are investigating the financing of lavish parties Ghosn hosted at the Versailles chateau, where the rich and famous wore period costumes and drunk copious Champagne.
They are also looking into €11 million in spending on private planes and events arranged by a Dutch holding company, as well as subsidies to a car dealership in Oman.
Ghosn denies any wrongdoing. He is seeking to clear his name against multiple legal challenges in France after Japanese accusations triggered scrutiny of his activities there.
Whilst he has not so far been charged with anything in France, he could be given preliminary charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering, misuse of company assets, or aggravated breach of trust.
Ghosn told the Associated Press news agency that he hopes the visit by French magistrates to Lebanon will be his first real opportunity to defend himself.
He also said he trusted the French legal system more than the Japanese justice he had fled.
Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 on accusations of financial misconduct and was kept in solitary confinement for months without being allowed to speak with his wife.
He fled to Lebanon a year later in a Hollywood-style escape that stunned the world.
Meanwhile, several associates are in jail or on trial in Japan and Turkey, in cases related to his financial activities or escape.
Ghosn’s Lebanese and French lawyers said in a statement earlier Monday that the “hearing is a voluntary step taken” by Ghosn.
Ghosn’s defence team also said they have “already identified serious procedural irregularities” in the French dossiers.
The defence team said “abnormalities, which undermine the judicial process, are the result of the peculiar methods of the Japanese investigation” that was the primary source for building the French cases.
Ghosn, who was given sanctuary by Lebanese authorities, grew up in Lebanon and has Lebanese citizenship. Lebanon will not extradite him.