Renault, Nissan Probe to Examine Ghosn’s Copacabana Trip
(Bloomberg) -- An extended weekend for eight couples to enjoy parades and parties at Rio de Janeiro’s celebrated Carnival is the latest example of Carlos Ghosn’s penchant for lavish entertaining when he headed the global Renault-Nissan auto alliance.
The fallen executive, who is in jail in Tokyo awaiting trial for financial crimes, and his wife invited guests for an extended February weekend last year that included as many as six nights in Hilton ocean-view suites overlooking Copacabana beach, according to emails seen by Bloomberg. The $260,000 bill was ultimately paid by RNBV, the car partnership’s holding company.
It is unclear what connections the invited guests may have had to the company or the car industry.
The trip is being investigated as part of a joint probe by Renault and Nissan into operations at the Amsterdam-based entity, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be named because details aren’t public. L’Express first reported on the Rio holiday.
The carnival invitation follows revelations Ghosn also hosted two extravagant dinners at the Versailles palace outside Paris that were at least partly paid for by Renault SA. While his family has offered to reimburse the cost of renting the castle for one of the events -- his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding in 2016 -- a Ghosn spokeswoman has said the 2014 celebration was corporate, not private.
The spokeswoman for the family said the Rio trip was also a company event. A spokesman for Nissan said the company can’t comment on the ongoing investigation into RNBV and Renault declined to comment.
Born in Brazil, raised in Lebanon and educated in France, the executive attracted scrutiny for his lifestyle, which has raised questions about whether he blurred the lines between his personal life and role as chairman of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, the world’s biggest car-making alliance.
“On behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Ghosn, I have the pleasure to inform you that they would be delighted if you would accept to be their guests at the 2018 Rio Carnival,” reads an email from an RNBV official to one of the participants in the Rio excursion.
The person was expected to pay airfare, and “the team will take care of you from the Rio airport,” said the invitation marked ‘Nissan Group of Latin America’ and Carnival 2018. The program included nights at the Sambadrome, outings to local tourist attractions and restaurant meals.
In Japan, Ghosn has rejected prosecutor claims of financial wrongdoing related to his time at the helm of Nissan. In his first Tokyo court appearance last month, he said he was “wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations.” He painted the picture of a loyal company man who wouldn’t dream of harming the firm.
On Wednesday, his new legal team took the jailed executive’s case to the court of public opinion, armed with fresh legal and public-relations strategies. Lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said Ghosn’s arrest was the result of a conspiracy inside the automaker. A spokesman for Nissan, Nicholas Maxfield, said, “we are not in a position to comment directly or specifically on Ghosn’s legal defense.”
The charges against Ghosn stem from a months-long internal probe at Nissan. Renault started its own internal investigation in November and another is underway into operations at RNBV. Already, the companies are said to review fees paid to consultants by the holding company, which amounted to about $10 million to $20 million a year.
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