Business / Corporate | ANALYSIS

Re-arrest may loom for Carlos Ghosn as ousted Nissan chief tweets he will 'tell the truth'

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

A tweet posted at 12:51 p.m. on Wednesday under the name of former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn was initially met with great skepticism.

The profile photo was his headshot, featuring gray hair and a cherry blossom tree in the background. Journalists were abuzz speculating about the veracity of the account.

“I’m getting ready to tell the truth about what’s happening,” read the tweet, the account’s first. “Press conference on Thursday, April 11.”

Then the account was verified. There was another tweet, this time in Japanese, about an hour later. That had gained more than 8,500 retweets and over 12,000 likes as of 7:10 p.m. Wednesday.

The ex-chairman’s snap announcement amid his indictment on charges of financial misconduct while head of Nissan has drawn speculation over who penned the tweet and the motive behind it. It was not immediately clear whether Ghosn himself or a representative was responsible for the message.

It is also not clear where the news conference would take place.

Ghosn’s legal team had previously said he is willing to hold a news conference — most recently on Tuesday afternoon. Junichiro Hironaka, one of the attorneys representing Ghosn, told reporters the news conference would take place “in the near future” but declined to give a specific date.

Ghosn’s choice of medium for announcing his news conference bewildered legal experts and observers: Why wasn’t the news delivered through his lawyers?

The move raises questions over Ghosn’s relationship with his legal team, Tokyo-based corporate lawyer Shin Ushijima said. But Ushijima added that it is unlikely that Ghosn acted unilaterally without consulting them.

The surprise tweet came as media reports said the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office is seeking to bring a fresh charge against the 65-year-old.

Multiple Japanese media outlets have reported that prosecutors are probing Nissan’s ¥3.5 billion ($31 million) payments to a distributor in Oman. The prosecutors allege some of the money, which came from a budget controlled by Ghosn, was misappropriated for Ghosn’s personal use.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that the prosecutors may add additional charges from now,” Hironaka said at Tuesday’s news conference.

If the report is accurate and the prosecutors bring charges, Ghosn could be arrested again and sent back to the Tokyo Detention House.

Yasuyuki Takai, an attorney and a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, said while he understands Ghosn’s intention to speak out, the tweets won’t have much effect. He added that prosecutors would not likely change their plans to bring fresh charges due to the holding of a news conference.

In one way, though, Ghosn’s announcement and the possibility of his arrest could be related, Ushijima said.

“If (Ghosn) were arrested before the 11th, he cannot hold a news conference,” Ushijima said. “So if that is the case, Ghosn could make the criticism that the prosecutors stripped him of an opportunity to tell the truth. … If he were arrested, he could say he was arrested to be silenced.”

Both Takai and Ushijima were doubtful of the merits of holding a news conference, pointing out that Ghosn’s remarks could be used against him by prosecutors when he goes to trial.

If he wants to do it anyway, the premise would need to be that he cannot comment on the allegations, Takai said. He could only go as far as claiming his arrest was a plot and treason by Nissan executives, which may not be well received by the public, Takai said.

“If I were his lawyer, I would advise him to forget about it,” Takai said. “There are no merits to doing it. It has no redeeming features.”

Ghosn, who saved Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy when he took over and transformed it into a global auto conglomerate, was initially arrested last November. He was accused of deliberately underreporting his remuneration for years and then subsequently slapped with additional charges, including aggravated breach of trust for the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan in 2008.

He was released on bail from the Tokyo Detention House on March 6 after having spent 108 days in confinement. His conditional release was secured after three attempts and followed the first effort by a new legal team including Hironaka, who earned his nickname “Razor” for his acumen and reputation for winning nonguilty verdicts in some of the country’s most high-profile cases.

Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing.