Business / Corporate

Tokyo prosecutors indict Carlos Ghosn on misappropriation charge in 'most serious allegation' yet

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on Monday indicted former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn for a fourth time, this charge for allegedly misappropriating the company’s money for personal use — an accusation described by legal experts as the most serious brought against him so far.

With the latest charge, Ghosn is accused of expropriating a Nissan subsidiary’s payments to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, a Nissan distributor in Oman.

Prosecutors allege that some of the money, about ¥560 million, had been siphoned off by Ghosn and sent to Good Faith Investments (GFI), a Lebanese investment firm he effectively controlled, for his own personal use, such as for the purchase of a luxury yacht.

Ghosn’s defense team submitted a request for bail later in the day.

He had already been arrested and indicted on charges related to underreporting his remuneration for years and making Nissan cover some of his personal investment losses in 2008. He denies any wrongdoing.

“Carlos Ghosn is innocent of the latest charges brought against him by the Tokyo prosecutors, aided and abetted by certain Nissan conspirators,” a spokesperson for Ghosn said in a statement Monday. “Mr. Ghosn will continue to vigorously defend himself against these baseless accusations and fully expects to be vindicated.”

In a related development Monday, Nissan filed a criminal complaint against Ghosn over aggravated breach of trust.

The carmaker said in a statement it has determined that the payments in question “were in fact directed by Ghosn for his personal enrichment and were not necessary from a business standpoint.”

“Such misconduct is completely unacceptable, and Nissan is requesting appropriately strict penalties,” the statement read.

Stephen Givens, a Tokyo-based corporate lawyer, said the fourth charge is the most serious accusation prosecutors have made so far against the 65-year-old former auto titan.

After Ghosn was arrested in early April his wife, Carole, ramped up her worldwide media blitz defending him and criticizing Japan’s legal system.

Kyodo News reported that prosecutors believe some of the money sent to GFI was diverted to Beauty Yachts, Carole Ghosn’s firm registered in the British Virgin Islands. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month Carole Ghosn left Japan for France soon after his fourth arrest. On Friday, Yasuyuki Takai, an attorney and former prosecutor, said such a move could jeopardize any bail request by Ghosn as he might conspire with his wife and destroy any evidence.

But Shin Ushijima, a Tokyo-based corporate lawyer, said the Tokyo District Court will likely grant bail for a second time, adding that his bail request has already been approved and there is no reason for the court to deny another request for release.

He also dismissed speculation that Carole Ghosn’s trip to France would unlikely affect the decision to grant bail. Ghosn’s first trial, which was expected to take place some time this autumn, may be pushed back due to the latest charge, Ushijima added.

“The focus will be on whether the trial will be held by the end of the year,” Ushijima said.

Ghosn was rearrested while out on bail on April 4. He and his lawyers denounced his fourth arrest, blasting it as an “arbitrary” attempt to sabotage his planned April 11 news conference. He has been held since that day at the Tokyo Detention House, where he had been detained for 108 days until he won his release on bail March 6.

“Even though it was a separate case, it’s unthinkable to rearrest someone who has been released on bail,” one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told an April 4 news conference.

Ghosn joined Nissan in 1999 and is credited with saving the automaker from bankruptcy. He was initially arrested at Tokyo’s Haneda airport last Nov. 19 after Nissan said an internal probe found that Ghosn and close associate Greg Kelly had engaged in financial misconduct. Kelly also denies any wrongdoing.

In a video filmed April 3, the day before his fourth arrest, Ghosn characterized his ousting from the automaker he led for 20 years as “a conspiracy” by “selfish” Nissan executives who were afraid to forge ahead in its alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Renault SA.