Business / Corporate

Carlos Ghosn's lawyer asks for trial separate from Nissan's and Kelly's to ensure fair hearing

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

The legal team representing ousted Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn asked the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday to hold trials separately for him, his former close associate Greg Kelly and Nissan Motor Co., saying that otherwise Ghosn won’t get a fair trial over his alleged financial misconduct.

Also holding his first news conference since Ghosn’s release on bail last month, defense attorney Junichiro Hironaka argued that Nissan cooperated extensively with prosecutors by handing over its internal probe findings on the accused former executive and through plea-bargaining.

Ghosn’s legal team also released the names of two Nissan officials who were involved in the plea-bargaining.

Though the automaker has also been indicted for underreporting Ghosn’s income, Hironaka said Nissan has been cozying up to prosecutors, jeopardizing Ghosn’s right to “a fair trial.”

“As the defense team, we believe that no matter how you look at this issue, having Mr. Ghosn together with Nissan on the same seat and going to trial proceedings together is a peculiar situation which goes against a fair trial,” Hironaka said. “No matter how you think of this, Nissan is not a defendant. They are prosecutors.”

Currently, they are expected to stand trial in the 17th Criminal Court Division at the Tokyo District Court, presided over by Judges Kenji Shimozu, Kazunori Fukushima and Kenji Matsushita, Hironaka said.

Under the Japanese legal system, separate proceedings are allowed, but in a majority of cases they are handled by the same panel of judges.

For this trial, Hironaka said Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, along with his legal team, will most likely appear in court proceedings as the company’s senior representative.

Hironaka mentioned several new pieces of information during the news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. He confirmed that senior Nissan administrator Toshiaki Onuma and Hari Nada, who worked closely with Kelly, were involved in plea-bargaining. They have provided a “significant amount of statements” and other materials to prosecutors, Hironaka said.

Since Ghosn’s release March 6 after 108 days in detention, the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Motors Corp. alliance has moved on to building a post-Ghosn structure, announcing a new joint management board and the abolishment of the chairman position to avoid a concentration of power. Ghosn wasn’t allowed to attend a board meeting in March and is expected to be removed from Nissan’s board during an extraordinary shareholders meeting next week.

Hironaka said Ghosn remains proud of his contributions to Nissan, but he isn’t thinking of taking any specific action in response to these developments.

Reuters reported Monday that Renault SA has notified French prosecutors regarding millions of euros in payments made from the French automaker to Ghosn’s business associate in Oman that was then transferred to a Lebanese company associated with Ghosn. Hironaka declined to comment, saying he had not spoken with Ghosn about the report.

Asked when the trial would start, Hironaka said it would be difficult to have it take place in September, as reported in the media.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that the prosecutors may add additional charges from now. And if this were the case, then the trial could also take a much longer period from now,” he said.

Still, Hironaka stressed that he remains confident Ghosn is innocent based on the available evidence observed by the defense team.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested Ghosn last Nov. 19 on suspicion of falsifying his reported income.

The prosecutors subsequently arrested him again on two additional counts of financial misconduct, including aggravated breach of trust for the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Hironaka said Ghosn can be expected to hold a news conference in “the near future” as he is contemplating what he will tell the public.

Reflecting on the legal team’s role in securing their client’s release on bail, Hironaka acknowledged both public opinion and the attorneys’ ability to prove Ghosn did not pose a flight risk and was not at risk of tampering with evidence.

“I believe it could be said that at the time the court was somewhat having difficulty in making its decision (over whether to grant him a bail), we were able to put this (request for bail) forward and shift it toward the direction of the release in a very definitive way,” he said.

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