Ex-Renault CEO will repay his Versailles wedding costs

Ania Nussbaum
Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole Ghosn, seen at the Cannes Film Festival in France on May 26, 2017, rented the Chateau de Versailles for their Marie Antoinette-themed wedding party in 2016.

Carlos Ghosn plans to pay back the Chateau de Versailles for costs related to his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding party after Renault SA disclosed that its former chairman may have improperly used a sponsorship deal to host the event.

Ghosn will reimburse the palace, which will in turn compensate the French carmaker, a spokeswoman for his family, Devon Spurgeon, said by phone Friday. Meanwhile, Les Echos newspaper reported the jailed executive hosted another party at Versailles two years earlier on his 60th birthday.

Ghosn’s response to the wedding expense came a day after Renault said it would tell French authorities he had received a “personal benefit” worth 50,000 euros ($57,000) related to an agreement with the chateau. The finding was part of an internal probe and marked the first time Renault has disclosed possible improprieties by Ghosn, who remains in a Tokyo jail after allegations of financial crimes were brought against him by Japanese prosecutors.

The sum is said to be the estimated cost of renting the historic premises under a contract signed by Ghosn that entitled the carmaker to hold corporate events at Versailles. He and his wife Carole threw an extravagant party there in 2016 that was captured in a photo spread showing actors in period costumes, along with eye-popping arrays of cakes.

Ghosn’s quick move to pay back the chateau contrasts with his stance in Japan, where he has rejected prosecutor claims of financial wrongdoing related to his time at the helm of Renault partner Nissan Motor Co. 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.

After his Nov. 19 arrest, Ghosn was quickly ousted by Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, the other Japanese partner in the alliance. He 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, partly because Nissan moved fast to remove him while Renault dragged its feet.

The Versailles party has been widely held up as evidence of the executive’s lavish lifestyle when he headed the three global car companies. Before his decision to pay back the Versailles palace was made public, his lawyer in France, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, had said in an emailed statement Ghosn paid for all his wedding expenses.

“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.

Les Echos reported Ghosn hosted a black-tie evening in March, 2014 for 200 guests to mark the 15th anniversary of the car alliance. The society event costing an estimated 600,000 euros was held on the day he turned 60 and not the day the companies’ partnership started in 1999. Renault declined to comment and Ghosn’s lawyer and spokespeople for the alliance couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.

Renault started an internal probe in November, shortly after Ghosn was arrested. Following the Versailles revelations, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the investigation is “starting to get results.”

Read Renault, Nissan Are Said to Review Consulting Fees at Alliance

The minister also said an audit would begin in the coming days of the finances of RNBV, the Dutch company that manages Renault and Nissan’s alliance. Already, the companies are said to review fees paid to consultants by the company, which amounted to about $10 million to $20 million a year.