PARIS – Renault has asked a French prosecutor to look into whether former Chairman and Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn misused a company sponsorship to stage a black-tie party where actors in 18th-century costumes roamed under the chandeliers of a Versailles château to celebrate his second marriage and his wife’s birthday, according to people familiar with the matter.
The French auto maker said Thursday it found evidence that Ghosn may have personally benefited to the tune of 50,000 euros ($57,000) from a sponsorship agreement that Renault had entered into with the Palace of Versailles.
“The elements gathered so far require additional checks to be carried out,” the company said.
A lawyer for Ghosn, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said the executive received free use of space at Versailles but wasn’t aware it would affect benefits Renault received under the sponsorship agreement. A representative of Ghosn’s family said he would pay 50,000 euros to Versailles to ensure there would be no damage to Renault.
“Carlos Ghosn paid for all of his wedding expenses,” Le Borgne said.
Renault stuck by the auto titan for months following his Nov. 19 arrest in Japan. It kept Ghosn on as chairman and CEO until his resignation in late January even as he sat in a Tokyo jail, charged by Japanese prosecutors with underreporting his compensation from Nissan and causing Nissan to pay the company of a Saudi friend who helped him with a personal financial problem.
Nissan is part of an alliance with Renault, and Ghosn jetted across the globe leading the two auto makers at the same time.
Ghosn, who remains in jail, has denied any wrongdoing.
Renault has been circumspect about Nissan’s accusations against Ghosn; but under pressure from its Japanese partner, the company launched its own probe into its former head’s remuneration and use of company assets. Thursday’s disclosure represents the first findings to surface from that inquiry.
Renault found a document from the Palace of Versailles – the onetime residence of French kings that now operates as a museum – that valued the rental of the Grand Trianon at 50,000 euros, according to a person familiar with the matter. The document states that Renault’s rental of the château occurred on Oct. 8, 2016, the same day Ghosn hosted his party at the Grand Trianon for Carole, his wife.
The company also found a receipt from a third-party organizer of the event stating the rental was “a gift from Versailles,” according to the person familiar with the matter.
One person who attended the black-tie affair on the palace’s sprawling grounds on the outskirts of Paris said about 120 guests celebrated among pastry towers and tables adorned with candelabras.
“Sofia Coppola’s film ‘Marie Antoinette’ served as inspiration for a night of dinner, dancing, and – in homage to the ill-fated queen’s supposed penchant for cake – an extravagant offering of colorful desserts,” Leena Kim wrote in the March 2017 issue of Town & Country, the social chronicler of the wealthy.
Paid actors in wigs of cascading chestnut curls and coats of brocade and lace squired actresses in white wigs piled high beneath gold-and-crystal chandeliers as royals long since dead stared down from inside gilt frames.
“When you invite people to a party, they say maybe,” Kim quoted Ghosn as saying. “When you invite them to Versailles, they will come.”
Renault signed a sponsorship deal with the Palace of Versailles in June 2016, with the company’s fee earmarked for renovations of the state-owned palace, a person familiar with the matter said. As part of that contract, Renault was given a number of benefits, including the use of palace facilities.
The palace said Renault paid 2.3 million euros to sponsor the restoration of the “Salon de la Paix,” a gilded reception room adjacent to the apartment of Marie Antoinette with a clear view of the famous gardens. It said that as sponsor Renault was entitled to 25 percent of the sponsorship amount in benefits.
The palace also said that Renault asked to rent the Grand Trianon on Oct. 8, 2016, and that its standard rental rate is 50,000 euros. The palace declined to comment on the third-party receipt.
Le Borgne, the Ghosn lawyer, said the event space at Versailles was made available to the Ghosns without charge. “Ghosn was unaware that the use of the space would be charged against Renault’s allotted usage,” the lawyer said.
A representative for the Ghosn family said Ghosn would pay 50,000 euros to Versailles and the palace would restore Renault’s credit.