Business / Corporate

Carlos Ghosn suspected of redirecting Nissan money to himself via Oman

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn is suspected by prosecutors of having redirected to himself money paid by the automaker to an Omani distributor that had no say over the received funds, sources close to the matter said Friday.

Less than a month after being released on bail, Ghosn was arrested again Thursday over a fresh allegation of aggravated breach of trust, this time in connection with the misuse of the funds paid to the distributor. He denied all of the allegations.

Hours before his arrest on Thursday, Ghosn vowed to prove he was innocent of the alleged financial misdeeds but raised doubts in an interview with French television that he would receive a fair trial in Japan.

The ousted boss of Nissan and Renault, whose case has gripped Japan and the rest of the business world, said in the interview that if he knew his trial would turn out fair, he would not be worried.

But he told broadcasters TF1 and LCI: “I have doubts about how this trial is going to play out — these doubts aren’t mine, they’re those of my lawyers.”

The Tokyo District Court approved detention for 10 days until April 14 on Friday, prompting criticism from Ghosn’s defense lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, who said he would file an appeal the same day.

“The court earlier approved his release because it judged that it had no concern over evidence tampering. But it has again allowed his detention. It’s illogical,” he said.

The Omani company received a total of ¥3.5 billion ($31 million) from 2012 as sales incentives paid out of Nissan’s CEO reserve, a pool of funds Ghosn could use at his discretion, the sources said.

A large amount of money was then transferred from the personal account of an executive in charge of accounting at the Omani company to Good Faith Investments, a Lebanese investment firm headed by this executive but effectively owned by Ghosn, according to the sources.

The executive, who was close to Ghosn, has told people close to him that he did not have the authority to decide how to use the money transferred from Nissan to the Omani distributor, the sources said.

Ghosn’s arrest came a day after the 65-year-old made a surprise announcement on Twitter that he would hold a news conference on April 11 to “tell the truth about what’s happening.”

Part of the money is suspected to have been channeled from Good Faith Investments to a company represented by Ghosn’s wife and used to purchase a luxury yacht worth ¥1.6 billion for use by Ghosn’s family, they said.

Ghosn is now facing a claim that he caused Nissan a loss of $5 million (¥560 million) by having Nissan Middle East F.Z.E., its subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates, pay the Omani distributor $15 million between December 2015 and July 2018, with a third of the sum transferred to a savings account Ghosn effectively controlled.

In the interview with the French broadcasters, Ghosn reiterated he was “combative and innocent” but acknowledged “it’s hard.”

“A lot of lies have been told and these lies have come one after another,” he said.

A few hours after the interview, Ghosn was re-arrested.

The businessman, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, called on the French government during the interview “to defend me” and press the Japanese authorities to respect the presumption of innocence.

“I am a citizen caught up in an unbelievable chain of events,” he said.

Asked if he would provide evidence in his trial that could clear his name, the 65-year-old said: “Everything needs to be put on the table. Of course, I have names.”

“Some of them you have seen in the press, but there are others that haven’t been in the press,” he added.

“It has to be shown why these people are playing a dangerous game, not just for me, but dangerous for the alliance as well.”

Ghosn had long been lauded as the architect of the alliance involving Renault and Nissan — and later Mitsubishi Motors — before his shock arrest in Tokyo in November.

“I pushed hard to make this alliance successful, but never by doing anything illegal,” he said.

The tycoon paid around ¥1 billion to win bail on March 6.

He already faces three separate charges. The first two relate to the alleged deferring of around ¥9 billion of his income and concealing this in official documents to shareholders.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5