National / Crime & Legal | ANALYSIS

Carole Ghosn goes on the offensive, launching media blitz for jailed auto executive husband

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

With no signs of Carlos Ghosn’s five-month legal drama wrapping up anytime soon, his wife has assumed a starring role in the former Nissan Motor Co. chairman’s defense, becoming his chief spokeswoman and crisscrossing the world to appeal to both the public and politicians on his behalf.

Carole Ghosn has flown to France to ask the government there to intervene in the case, returned to Japan for questioning by prosecutors and appeared in multiple media interviews in the United States where she has repeatedly proclaimed her husband’s innocence. She even penned an op-ed asking U.S. President Donald Trump to act.

But while the media blitz may generate some sympathy, it’s not likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the case, experts interviewed by The Japan Times said Friday.

In Japan, it is highly unusual for the family member of a defendant to engage in an aggressive media campaign before a trial to assert innocence, said Kuniyoshi Shirai, a professor of risk management at the Graduate School of Information and Communication in Tokyo.

“Mrs. Ghosn has been very active and is using a variety of methods (to argue her husband’s case), hoping that he will be released soon,” Shirai said. “I am sure she is getting help from (public relations) experts.”

Carole Ghosn has been vocal about her husband’s innocence since shortly after his initial arrest. She wrote a letter to Human Rights Watch in January complaining about her husband’s long detention and the legal system as a whole and has given multiple media interviews to highlight his plight.

But her husband’s latest arrest appears to have inspired a full-scale offensive. Since April 4, she has ramped up the frequency of her media appearances and taken some particularly bold steps, such as the pleas to the leaders of France and the U.S. to help her embattled and ailing husband.

The Japan Times reached out to Carole Ghosn for comment, but she did not respond by the time of publication.

Carlos Ghosn was served with a fresh warrant on April 4, accused of misappropriating a Nissan subsidiary’s payments to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, a distributor in Oman. Prosecutors allege that some of the money, totaling about ¥560 million, was siphoned off to a Lebanese investment firm he effectively owns, and was tapped for personal use, such as the purchase of a yacht.

When the former auto executive was arrested that fourth time, which occurred early in the morning, Carole, by the day’s end, had given interviews with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, giving her and her husband’s account of the event.

She said her Lebanese passport, diary, letters and cell phones were confiscated. Carole also claimed her privacy was invaded, saying that when she exited the shower that morning, she was handed a towel by a female prosecutor.

“I was treated like a criminal even though I am not a suspect, and I have not been charged with anything,” she wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Thursday. “The intent of the pre-dawn raid was clear: This was a deliberate, inhumane attempt to humiliate us, invade our privacy and violate our most basic dignities as human beings.”

There have also been media reports that suggest her involvement in the latest affair involving the Lebanese investment firm. Prosecutors believe some of the money that reportedly flowed to the Lebanese company was transferred to a firm in the Virgin Islands headed by Carole Ghosn, a Lebanese and American citizen, as well as a firm established by the couple’s son in the U.S., Kyodo News reported.

Renault SA, where Carlos Ghosn was also chairman, alerted French authorities in February that he might have misappropriated the company’s money for his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding at the Chateau de Versailles.

In The Washington Post op-ed, Carole Ghosn also bashed what she and other critics have dubbed the country’s “hostage justice” system. She said that the accused is not entitled to the same level of legal protection offered in the U.S. — citing prolonged detentions before indictments and the lack of the right to have an attorney present during questioning. She then pressed Trump to discuss the case with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when they meet at the White House at the end of the month.

“I hope and pray that our president will urge Abe to allow my husband to obtain bail so he can prepare for trial,” she wrote.

Stephen Givens, a Tokyo-based American corporate lawyer, said the description of the raid might draw some degree of sympathy from those outside Japan.

At the same time, Givens said, the couple have not been able to refute prosecutors’ allegations, especially the latest claim involving the Oman distributor. Legal experts, including Givens, say it is the most serious charge brought so far.

Givens also warned the duo about the perils of just repeating their declarations of Ghosn’s innocence and blasting the Japanese legal system without addressing the specific charges laid against him.

“I think that proclaiming that you are innocent and a victim when there is concrete evidence to the contrary makes you look bad,” he said.

But another lawyer, Shigeru Nakajima, who practices transactional law in Tokyo, says a defendant in a criminal case rarely speaks publicly on the case itself before trial because of the danger of entrapping oneself.

Shortly after the April 4 arrest, Carole Ghosn left Japan using her American passport to travel to France. She was quoted by the media as saying she went to France for her safety and to appeal to the French government to do more.

Yasuyuki Takai, an attorney and a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, said Carole Ghosn’s departure for France wasn’t a smart move and was one that could affect the court’s decision to grant bail. He also described her media campaign as a “futile” effort that will not influence the outcome of the case.

While she returned to Japan to answer questions by prosecutors, she then traveled to New York. There, she continued to seek media exposure, appearing on Fox Business Network and speaking to The Associated Press.

Shirai, the risk management professor, echoed the view that her media exposure would have limited impact. Despite her pleas to the French and American governments, he said they are unlikely to take action in order to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of another country.

Even in France, where the former auto titan initially saw wide support, “the government and people are increasingly growing skeptical toward him,” Shirai said.

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