Business

Ghosn's lawyer worries about case's impact on Japan's reputation and believes ex-Nissan chief is innocent

by Kazuaki Nagata and Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writers

The case against former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn could damage Japan’s reputation as a place to do business, according to the veteran lawyer leading his defense team who maintains he is certain his client is innocent.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Junichiro Hironaka said as with the world closely watching developments in the case, he is concerned it “could signal that Japan is unpredictable and excessive in what it allows authorities to do to individuals, in terms of conducting business.”

“For the rest of the world I think the case could leave the shocking impression that in Japan, even in a matter that should be discussed and handled internally by a company, such proceedings could turn into a criminal case and one could be detained out of the blue,” Hironaka told reporters at his first media appearance since his appointment.

“This is a significant problem for Japanese businesses,” he said.

On Nov. 19, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested the 64-year-old Brazilian-born French auto executive when he arrived at Haneda airport, on suspicion of underreporting his income.

The prosecutors subsequently arrested him again on two additional counts of financial misconduct, including allegedly understating his income on a different occasion and aggravated breach of trust for the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan during the global financial crisis in 2008.

“Issues that needed to be dealt with internally have somehow been brought to prosecutors. The prosecutors somehow then take the case, even though they are not supposed to interfere in civil affairs,” Hironaka said.

Last week Ghosn replaced his legal team, which had been led by former local prosecutor Motonari Otsuru, with one now headed by Hironaka, known for using aggressive tactics to defend high-profile clients.

He stressed that Ghosn is innocent of all the allegations.

“I have not seen the evidence, therefore I did not draw my conclusion logically by putting the pieces of information together. My belief (that Ghosn is innocent), in one sentence, is based on my gut feeling and experience up until this point,” said Hironaka.

He explained that he happened to have a similar hunch when he first talked to Atsuko Muraki, a former top bureaucrat at the health ministry, who was falsely accused of fraud in 2009. Hironaka successfully defended Muraki.

Hironaka has handled other high-profile cases and successfully defended notable figures such as Ichiro Ozawa, an influential politician who was accused of involvement in a political funds scandal.

Asked when Ghosn’s trial will start, Hironaka said it will probably begin this summer or later.

Hironaka added that with Ghosn’s detention having now continued for over three months, the world is growing increasingly doubtful about the fairness of Japan’s criminal justice system.