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The Renault-Nissan alliance had four private jets at its disposal, French investigators have found — three more than previously known.
Carlos Ghosn, the former chief executive of Renault and former chairman of Nissan, was known for a relentless travel schedule, often using a corporate jet that bore the registration number N155AN.
“It is not uncommon for me to leave Tokyo on a Friday night, attend meetings in another country over the weekend, then fly to Paris for a full week of work,” he said in a 2017 profile on Nissan’s website. “It helps that I can sleep well on an airplane.”
But investigators working for Nissan and Renault have discovered three jets at their alliance’s Dutch holding company that they did not know about, according to two people close to Renault.
The investigation was launched after Mr Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo in November and later charged with falsifying financial statements. Nissan has said that Mr Ghosn also inappropriately used company resources for his personal benefit. Mr Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing.
Of the total fleet, one of the planes was owned and three on long-term lease; two were long-range jets, while two were used for shorter journeys, investigators found, said people briefed on the findings.
People close to Mr Ghosn’s family said: “This is another baseless attack from executives who knew all along that Nissan owned four planes and [who] flew on them personally”.
The excessive use of private jets generally has become a source of criticism from both corporate governance experts and the wider public. In 2017, Jeff Immelt, General Electric’s former chairman and chief, was taken to task when it emerged that the company had a second jet that provided back-up to his main plane.
In the Nissan and Renault investigation, questions about the use of company jets have highlighted the blurred lines between Mr Ghosn’s globe-spanning business remit and his personal life, with children and properties on several continents.
The discovery of the jets comes as investigators probe Mr Ghosn’s pay at Renault and look into possible wrongdoing at RNBV, the Netherlands-registered joint-venture that housed some of the alliance-level functions of the two carmakers.
Renault and Nissan appointed French auditor Mazars this year to investigate the joint-venture.
Renault has separately alerted French prosecutors to millions in suspicious payments made to an alliance business partner in Oman for marketing purposes. The news of the payments was first reported by Reuters and confirmed by people familiar with the matter.
Alliance partner Nissan has previously suggested it was also looking into $30m in questionable payments to a subsidiary in Oman, according to people close to the situation.
Representatives for Mr Ghosn in Paris have denied any misuse of funds in Oman.
In February, the probe found that a Renault sponsorship of the Palace of Versailles allowed Mr Ghosn’s use of the venue for a wedding party, at an estimated cost of €50,000. He has offered to pay back the money.
Mr Ghosn has been charged with two counts of misconduct, one for misreporting his pay at Nissan and another of using his position for personal benefit after passing trading losses on to Nissan’s books.
Mr Ghosn continues to protest his innocence over the charges, saying that his arrest is a result of “plot and treason” at Nissan in order to prevent his attempts to merge the company with Renault.
Renault, which declined to comment, is expected to report on both investigations during a board meeting scheduled for this Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Leo Lewis in Tokyo
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