December 10, 2018 / 2:41 PM / 3 months ago

Art and cash-filled Rio apartment the new battleground for Nissan, Ghosn: court filing

SAO PAULO/TOKYO (Reuters) - A Rio de Janeiro apartment containing cash, art works and personal belongings of Carlos Ghosn has emerged as the latest battleground between the indicted former Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) chairman and the automaker.

FILE PHOTO - Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, attends a news conference to unveil Renault's next mid-term strategic plan in Paris, France, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Ghosn is seeking to retrieve “personal belongings, documents, cash, objects and art pieces” from the beachfront apartment, which Nissan owns. The company says the home could contain evidence of financial misconduct, according to its filing in a Brazilian court last week.

The legal dispute has been fierce in recent days, showing that Ghosn and Nissan are not just clashing in Japan, where Ghosn was arrested last month and was formally charged on Monday, but around the world.

Ghosn’s family obtained a favorable injunction last week that was swiftly overturned.

A source at Nissan in Brazil said on Monday afternoon the Ghosn family still did not have access to the apartment. Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported the family obtained another favorable court decision on Monday but a Nissan spokesman said the company believed this was incorrect.

The previously unreported court papers seen by Reuters show the extent of the legal dispute between Ghosn and Nissan over access to the apartment, one of several around the world he has been able to use. Nissan alleges Ghosn, who had been hailed for bringing the company back from the brink of bankruptcy, under-reported his income by tens of millions of dollars and diverted corporate funds for personal use.

The Rio apartment contains three safes that Nissan has yet to open, according to the court filings. The carmaker found them when it did an audit of the apartment following Ghosn’s firing, the company said.

The apartment also has “designer furniture, artwork and decorative objects,” it said. It was purchased by a Nissan subsidiary in late 2011 following the carmaker’s launch of a factory in the nearby city of Resende.

“INCALCULABLE RISK”

The apartment was bought on expectations that Ghosn’s trips to Brazil, where he was born and maintains citizenship, would “become more constant” after the factory opened, Nissan said in the filings.

The apartment is in the Copacabana neighborhood, on a road directly facing Rio’s famous beaches. An apartment in the same building was listed online for 12 million reais ($3.07 million).

Monday’s indictment in Japan puts the ball back in the court of Nissan’s alliance partner, Renault (RENA.PA). The French company, which owns a 43.4 percent stake in Nissan, is preparing for a Dec. 13 board meeting likely to consider Ghosn’s future as its chairman and chief executive.

Renault has so far stopped short of dismissing Ghosn, while repeatedly demanding access to the findings of the Nissan internal investigation that led to his arrest.

Court proceedings in Brazil started on Nov. 29, when a lawyer for Ghosn asked a judge to grant him access to the Rio apartment.

Nissan says allowing him access would “represent an incalculable risk of destruction of potential evidence of crimes allegedly committed.” Ghosn has so far been denied access by Brazil’s courts.

A lawyer for Ghosn, Jose Roberto de Castro Neves, told Reuters he was unaware of the existence of the three safes and that it was “absurd speculation” that they could contain evidence of wrongdoing.

“He’s a very smart guy,” de Castro Neves said in a brief phone interview. “If he had done something wrong, he would never leave it in the apartment.”

Tokyo prosecutors indicted Ghosn on Monday for under-reporting his income and also charged the automaker, making Nissan culpable for the alleged financial misconduct. Ghosn was arrested in Japan on Nov. 19 and is being held in a Tokyo jail.

Ghosn has not made any statement through his lawyers in Japan but has denied the allegations, according to media reports.

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun and Ritsuko Ando; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Steve Orlofsky and Leslie Adler

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