Carlos Ghosn used a joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi to inflate his pay, effectively clawing back an agreed cut to his wages, a court has heard, as the fugitive businessman’s lawyers faced his former employers in court for the first time.
Mr Ghosn granted himself a salary and bonus worth £6.2m without the knowledge of the boards of Nissan and Mitsubishi, who had previously challenged the payments, the companies’ legal teams said.
He has denied any wrongdoing, including over the way he was paid, and has since launched court cases against the car manufacturers, arguing he was fired unlawfully. One of those cases is in the Netherlands, where the Japanese companies made new submissions on Monday.
Their lawyers alleged in arguments submitted to the Dutch court that Mr Ghosn had awarded himself compensation through a Nissan-Mitsubishi joint venture to offset a cut in his publicly declared earnings. He had agreed a reduction to his salary when he stepped down as Nissan chief executive in April 2017.
Nissan-Mitsubishi lawyer Eelco Meerdink said there was also evidence Mr Ghosn had made the companies pay his personal French tax debt of €498,000 (£421,000) in 2018 and that he arranged a “pre-payment” of his 2019 salary to avoid an upcoming increase in Dutch income tax rates.
Mr Ghosn’s legal team said allegations of unknown or unjust payments were unfounded.
“We don’t dispute that Mr Ghosn received a good salary,” lawyer Roeland de Mol told Amsterdam District Court. “But he had the heavy task of getting French and Japanese companies to cooperate. He didn’t retire to go play golf after he stepped down as Nissan CEO.”
The allegations arose as Mr Ghosn’s legal team challenged his sacking by Nissan and Mitsubishi during the court hearing, the first public session on the case since the former executive launched a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the companies in July.
He is seeking €15m (£12.7m) in damages from the Japanese carmakers, who he alleges violated Dutch labour laws.
Mr Ghosn’s lawyers argued for the release of internal documents relating to his dismissal following a Nissan-Mitsubishi inquiry, which the companies used to substantiate his dismissal on grounds of financial misconduct.
The businessman’s legal team claims he was unfairly dismissed as chairman of Nissan-Mitsubishi BV, a Dutch-registered entity, because the details of allegations against him were not shared with him. His lawyers say the documents will show the companies were aware of his activities.
“Nissan and Mitsubishi publicly shamed Ghosn,” Mr De Mol told the court. “Their reports and accusations were never put to Ghosn. There was no due process.”
The lawyer demanded “a full debate on the reasons of Ghosn’s dismissal”, adding: “We need the information in his file to be able to do that. Mr. Ghosn is ready for a fight.”
Mr Meerdink said the reasons for the executive’s dismissal were clear, and that his lawyers were “going on a fishing expedition”.
The Amsterdam court said it would postpone any decision on documents until Nissan and Mitsubishi had filed their case on the reasons for Mr Ghosn’s dismissal on 26 March.
Additional reporting by agencies