Business / Corporate

Japanese prosecutors ask judges to question Carlos Ghosn's wife

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, Staff Report

Prosecutors in Tokyo have asked judges to question Carlos Ghosn’s wife in connection with funds allegedly misappropriated by the former Nissan Motor chairman, sources said Sunday.

Tokyo prosecutors are considering questioning Ghosn’s wife, Carole, over an allegation that part of the automaker’s sales incentive payments to an Omani distributor was channeled to her company for personal use, the sources said.

Prosecutors suspect that Carole Ghosn’s company used the money partly to fund the purchase of a luxurious yacht mainly for their family’s use.

The prosecutors asked her to meet them for voluntary questioning as an unsworn witness, but the request was turned down, which prompted them to ask judges to question her on their behalf before they open the first hearing on the allegations, public broadcaster NHK reported. Such a request gives judges the power to question on a mandatory basis witnesses who refuse to testify, according to the broadcaster. Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, Carole Ghosn has flown to Paris to appeal to the French government to help her husband and said the government “should do more for him,” the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

“I don’t think they’ve done enough. I don’t think he’s had enough support and he’s calling for assistance,” she told the FT in an interview before boarding a flight out of Japan on Friday. “As a French citizen, it should be a right.”

Carole Ghosn also told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper in France that her husband had recorded a video interview in English before his detention. “He names the people responsible for what has happened to him. The lawyers have it. It will be released soon,” she told the newspaper.

It was separately reported that Ghosn’s defense team plans to show around April 11, the day he was due to hold a news conference, a video message he recorded before his latest arrest.

Ghosn was rearrested on Thursday on suspicion he had tried to enrich himself at Nissan’s expense, in another dramatic twist that his lawyers called an attempt to muzzle him. The fresh arrest opens up the possibility that he will be interrogated again without his lawyer present, as is the norm in Japan.

The additional charge would likely prolong Ghosn’s trial, which is expected to begin later this year, his lawyer has said, adding that loss of access to Ghosn’s trial-related documents could put his client at a disadvantage in fighting his case.

Tokyo prosecutors confiscated Carole Ghosn’s passport and a mobile phone Thursday when they served a fourth arrest warrant on Ghosn in connection with the misuse of Nissan monies paid to the Omani company, Suhail Bahwan Automobiles. It was not clear if her passport had been returned or whether she holds multiple passports.

Suhail Bahwan Automobiles allegedly received $15 million between December 2015 and July 2018 and transferred $5 million of it to a bank account of Good Faith Investments, a Lebanese investment firm Ghosn effectively owns. Ghosn has denied all of the allegations.

A suspicion emerged that the money was transferred from the Omani distributor to the Lebanese firm through several companies, the sources said. The prosecutors suspect it was an attempt to conceal the flow of the funds before they ended up in Carole Ghosn’s company, they said.

Good Faith Investments is also suspected of sending money to a California-based investment firm where Ghosn’s son is CEO.

The Tokyo District Court on Friday approved the prosecutors’ request for Ghosn to be detained up to 10 days until April 14. His detention could be extended if approved by the court.

Ghosn was first arrested in November and has since been indicted on charges including violating the financial instruments law by underreporting remuneration to regulators for years and aggravated breach of trust in relation to the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan, all of which he has denied.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on Saturday that his country respects Japan’s judicial procedures regarding the Ghson case.

The French minister was quoted by a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as saying in a bilateral meeting with Kono on the fringe of the Group of Seven gathering in western France that France respects Japan’s “judicial independence” in a reference to Ghosn’s re-arrest Thursday.

Le Drian also said France continues to uphold the principle of the presumption of innocence and provide consular protection to Ghosn, according to the Japanese official.

Ghosn holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationality.

Kono later told reporters investigations into the allegations against Ghosn “will not influence bilateral relations.”

Information from Reuters added