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Fugitive businessman Carlos Ghosn demands €15 million from Renault

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Carlos Ghosn is taking Renault to court over his pension
Carlos Ghosn is taking Renault to court over his pension   -   Copyright  AP/Maya Alleruzzo
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Carlos Ghosn, the former Renault boss who has fled Japan where he faces prosecution, has started a legal battle with the French carmaker to claim an annual pension of nearly €800,000 as well as €15 million in shares.

The fugitive businessman is challenging Renault in court, after the company announced last year he had lost his rights to his top-level pension as he was believed to have resigned from his post while in prison in Japan.

To be eligible for the €774,774 annual pension, the French-Lebanese-Brazilian needed to be present as a corporate officer.

The board of directors also considered the former CEO to have lost his rights to shares allocated to him between 2015 and 2018. Their settlement was subject to him maintaining a presence in the company four years after their allocation, “except in the event of retirement”.

Ghosn lost 380,000 shares, valued at an estimated €15.5 million.

The former CEO has rejected the interpretation that he resigned from his post and is taking Renault to the French labour court and commercial court.

"I have rights vis-à-vis Nissan, vis-à-vis Renault, which have not been respected, and I intend to claim them in court," he warned last Wednesday at a press conference in Beirut.

In an interview broadcast on French television, he said: "I didn't resign at all, I withdrew from my job to allow Renault to function, it was in January, I was in prison. I couldn't leave Renault paralysed by a situation like that."

"From there to saying that I resigned, frankly that's an interpretation that's specific to those who are saying that."

His pension demands have prompted criticism from union officials in France, a country that has seen weeks of social unrest over proposed reforms to its complex pension system.

"At a time when the government insists on wanting to cut employee pensions, former CEO Carlos Ghosn remains unscrupulous. He is demanding the payment of an additional annual pension of nearly 800,000 euros, or about 637 times the minimum wage," the CGT union at Renault said.

A hearing is scheduled for "the end of February".

Japanese lawyer quits

Junichiro Hironaka had been representing Ghosn in his defence against financial misconduct charges. He announced Thursday that he was stepping down - which was widely expected after Ghosn escaped to Lebanon late last month.

Hironaka said in a statement that the entire team working on the case at his office will quit but did not outline reasons. He has said before he felt some empathy for Ghosn's reasons for escape, while stressing he had hoped to win vindication in court.

Hironaka is respected for winning high-profile cases in this nation where the conviction rate is higher than 99%. Among the cases he has handled is that of Atsuko Muraki, a Welfare Ministry official accused of falsely approving a group to qualify for mail discounts. She was acquitted in 2010.

International fugitive

Ghosn made a name for himself in the business world having been credited with turning around the fortunes of carmakers including Renault and Japanese carmaker Nissan.

He was arrested on his private jet just after in landed in Tokyo in November 2018, and was subsequently charged with under-reporting his future pay package and breach of trust.

The businessman was ousted from the board of Nissan following his arrest, a decision also taken by Mitsubishi, where he was Chairman.

On December 31, 2019, Ghosn became an international fugitive when news broke he had fled from Japan to Lebanon, a country Japan doesn’t have an extradition treaty with.

One of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, denied any involvement in or knowledge of the escape, saying lawyers had all of Ghosn's three passports.

“I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan's legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold,'' Ghosn said in a statement.

He insisted he has "not fled justice" but has "escaped ... injustice and political persecution."