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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Ghosn used tax haven to disguise Nissan home purchases

Chairman negotiated price and terms himself

Carlos Ghosn's house in the historic area of Beirut, Lebanon. The arrested Nissan chairman spent his childhood days in Beirut, but the city is not central to the automaker's operations. (Photo of house by Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Arrested Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn was heavily involved in the choice of two luxury homes bought with company cash via units in a British Virgin Islands tax haven for his personal use, including negotiating the price, sources told Nikkei on Wednesday.

The homes in Brazil and Lebanon cost the automaker over 2 billion yen, or $17.7 million, combined, including renovation costs, but were offered to the chairman free of charge.

Together with the allegation that family vacation tabs worth several hundred thousand dollars were passed on to the company, they expose how the 64-year-old leader had blurred the lines between his private and public affairs.

Sources say the purchases were made via Dutch subsidiary Zi-A Capital, established around 2010 with an investment of around 6 billion yen. Nissan insiders were told that the the company's purpose was to invest in startups.

But a portion of the funds were transferred to a Zi-A Capital unit established in the British Virgin Islands, known as a tax haven.

One of the homes that was purchased for Ghosn was a beachfront condominium in the popular Rio de Janeiro resort of Copacabana. The property belonged to an acquaintance of Ghosn, and the chairman himself negotiated the price and terms.

The Dutch subsidiary's Virgin Islands unit paid over $4.5 million for the property in 2011 and for such other expenses as renovation fees. The property was handed to Ghosn free of charge.

Another Virgin Islands unit was set up by Zi-A Capital to purchase another home, in an exclusive neighborhood in Beirut, that was also chosen personally by Ghosn. This unit is thought to have paid around $8.8 million for the house. Ghosn spent time in Beirut as a child, but the city is not central to Nissan's operations.

Once the decision was made on a property, the orders would be passed down through Representative Director Greg Kelly to two associates, a non-Japanese senior vice president and a senior Japanese official, who would handle the paperwork.

The two associates are thought to be cooperating with the investigation under a plea bargain deal that would lighten their charges.

Ghosn's homes in Paris and Amsterdam may also have had at least part of their rent or operating costs paid by Nissan.

For his Brazilian residence, Ghosn chose a beachfront condominium in the popular Rio de Janeiro resort of Copacabana.      © Reuters

The Japanese automaker has said that Ghosn's improper activities included underreporting his compensation, diverting investment money and misusing company expenses. The purchase of homes is thought to fall in the second category.

Ghosn and Kelly were arrested on Monday on suspicion of understating the chairman's compensation by 5 billion yen ($44 million) over five years, which would be a violation of Japan's Financial Instruments and Exchange Act.

Of the unreported 5 billion yen, around 4 billion yen was compensation linked to the company's stock price -- a cash package determined by how much the shares rose from when the rights were issued. Ghosn had discretion over how the share-linked compensation was allocated, the sources said.

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