Renault Flags Possible Ghosn Misconduct for Versailles Party
(Bloomberg) -- Carlos Ghosn may have made improper use of a Renault SA sponsorship deal to help pay for his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding party at the Chateau de Versailles.
Ghosn received a “personal benefit” worth 50,000 euros ($57,000), according to a statement from the carmaker Thursday. The findings to be turned over to French authorities are part of an internal probe and mark the first time Renault has disclosed possible improprieties by its jailed former chairman.
The sum is the estimated cost of renting the premises under a contract signed by Ghosn that entitled the carmaker to hold corporate events at Versailles, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. Using the castle for his 2016 nuptials didn’t likely benefit the company, the person said.
Renault’s disclosure marks the first time the carmaker has provided details of potential wrongdoing by the fallen executive after allegations of financial crimes were brought against him by Japanese authorities. The findings stem from an internal probe Renault started in November, shortly after Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo.
The investigation is “starting to get results,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in Paris Thursday.
Ghosn paid for all his wedding expenses, his lawyer in France Jean-Yves Le Borgne said in an emailed statement.
“The event space at Versailles was made available to him without charge and Mr. Ghosn was unaware that the use of the space would be charged against Renault’s allotted usage,” he wrote in the email.
The Versailles event has been widely held up as evidence of the executive’s lavish lifestyle when he headed three global car companies. Le Figaro first reported Renault’s decision to take the finding to French authorities. He has denied wrongdoing in connection with the Japanese charges.
Ghosn was quickly ousted by Japanese alliance partners Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors and resigned last month as chairman and chief executive officer of Renault, in which the French state is the most powerful shareholder. His downfall has triggered tension within the car-making pact that is entwined by cross-shareholdings.
Ghosn and his wife Carole used the Grand Trianon part of the sprawling Versailles castle and gardens outside Paris for a party they threw in 2016 inspired by Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film, Marie Antoinette. The wedding was followed by a photo spread published in Town & Country magazine showing actors in period costumes, along with eye-popping arrays of desserts and snaps of Ghosn and his family.
Marie Antoinette came to symbolize the opulent lifestyle of French aristocracy at a time of revolt. She was executed four years after the revolution.
Born in Brazil, raised in Lebanon and educated in Paris, Ghosn jetted around the world visiting car plants, meeting ministers and eating and sleeping in the world’s finest restaurants and hotels. Revelations since his arrest have lifted the veil on luxury homes, opulent decor and expensive entertaining.
Ghosn’s ouster from the Japanese companies has sparked a tug-of-war for power between Renault and Nissan. Renault has agreed to Nissan’s demands that both companies investigate the finances of RNBV, the Dutch company that manages their alliance.
The audit will begin in the coming days, “the sooner the better,” France’s Le Maire said. “If I asked for two separate audits, it’s because I want total transparency.”
Renault’s new chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, has pledged to mend the alliance and overhaul Renault’s governance and could unveil plans for the French carmaker next month, the person said. At the same time, Nissan is said to be unwilling to support an arrangement that would place the same person as chairman at both Renault and Nissan, as was the case under Ghosn.
“We have succeeded in Senard being able to have his post on the Nissan board, as he has the right, and it will be effective in a few days,” Le Maire said.
The tussle over Senard’s role at Nissan is a sign of the challenges facing the Franco-Japanese partnership as the sides try to forge a fresh path without Ghosn. Nissan is said to seek a review of the lopsided power structure with Renault, and its chief executive officer, Hiroto Saikawa, has criticized Ghosn for having too much authority and making decisions that weren’t in the best interest of the Japanese company.
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