BEIRUT (Reuters) – Former Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn said on Wednesday that he did not initially pay to host a family party inside the lavish Palace of Versailles because he believed the palace offered him free use of the place.
Ghosn, who escaped last month from Japan where he was on bail pending trial, is the subject of a separate investigation in France to establish whether the 17th-century palace party was a financial benefit that ‘he got it inappropriately.
Speaking at his first press conference since his November 2018 arrest in Japan, Ghosn said he believed the use of the opulent venue’s grounds was a “commercial gesture” from the palace in return for sponsorship of the renovations by Renault.
Ghosn was later surprised to learn that the use in October 2016 of the Grand Trianon building, located within the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, had been billed to Renault.
“Catherine Pegard, who is at the head of Versailles, told me ‘Mr. Ghosn you are a great benefactor, you know from time to time for our great friends we can make rooms available. If you are organizing a private party, we can make rooms available ”. I say thank you very much.
Calls to Pegard’s office at the chateau’s public establishment, which manages Versailles, went unanswered.
Months after his contact with Pegard, Ghosn said he decided to host his wife Carole’s 50th birthday at the palace.
The event was organized by a company, he said. Ghosn presented a document at the Beirut press conference which he said showed the organizers had listed the cost of renting the building at “zero euros”.
“So you know, when I see that, I say ‘this is a commercial gesture.”
He described his surprise to learn later that the fee was 50,000 euros and had been deducted from what he called “the credit Renault earns by sponsoring Versailles”.
“We said ‘ok, we’re ready to pay’,” Ghosn said. “We believed in good faith that this was some kind of commercial gesture.”
The French investigation was launched after Renault said in February 2019, three months after Ghosn’s arrest in Japan, that it found evidence in an internal investigation that it had borne part of the costs of the celebration.
Ghosn said if the French judicial authorities wanted to speak to him, he was ready to speak to them.
Asked what he was looking for with the French authorities, he replied: “Nothing”. He added that he expected the presumption of innocence to be respected in France.
Report by Samia Nakhoul in Beirut; Written by Richard Lough in Paris; edited by Mike Collett-White