French prosecutors said Wednesday they have assigned a judge to launch a formal investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds at Renault SA by former CEO Carlos Ghosn.
The prosecutors have stepped up their probe after launching a preliminary investigation a year ago, handing the case to an investigating magistrate who has the power to order custodies and make international arrangements.
The inquiry was opened into suspicious financial flows between Renault and Omani distributor Suhail Bahwan Automobiles LLC, with millions of euros suspected to have been spent by a joint venture set up by the French carmaker and its partner Nissan Motor Co. for Ghosn's personal benefit.
It will look into alleged money laundering and other financial irregularities including concealment and forgery of documents, according to the prosecutors.
A lawyer for Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan, said they will provide explanations to the designated magistrate.
Ghosn, who in late December jumped bail and fled to Lebanon from Tokyo where he was awaiting trial on allegations he misused Nissan funds and understated his remuneration by billions of yen for years, has denied any wrongdoing.
French prosecutors began investigating the flow of funds between Renault and the SBA in February last year in response to a request from the Japanese authorities.
Renault said the same month it would report to investigators on allegations that its former CEO received 50,000 euros ($56,000) in personal benefits under the carmaker's sponsorship deal with the Palace of Versailles.
The French automaker also submitted a report to the prosecutors last July about a probe conducted by the joint venture in the Netherlands, Renault-Nissan BV which oversees the Japanese-French group.
The investigation found Ghosn is suspected of having misused 11 million euros for his personal benefit, including inappropriate air travel expenses.
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