National / Crime & Legal

Defense team accuses Tokyo prosecutors of colluding with Nissan and Japan to get Ghosn

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

The legal team representing former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn criticized prosecutors in court filings revealed Thursday, alleging that they had engaged in “multiple acts of illegal prosecutorial misconduct” and demanding they drop charges altogether.

The defense team accused prosecutors of colluding with Nissan and officials from the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry to oust Ghosn and prevent further integration between Nissan and Renault SA, one of its alliance partners.

According to the filings, this was done through a secret task force with the objective of preserving the Japanese automaker’s independence.

The prosecutors, the defense claims, also exploited Japan’s new plea bargaining law to obtain false testimony against Ghosn and ignored wrongdoing by other Nissan executives. The prosecution is also alleged to have directed Nissan employees to break into Ghosn’s house to confiscate personal goods, seize documents protected by attorney-client privilege, take his wife’s personal possessions and leak information to the media to create an incriminating narrative.

Tokyo prosecutors have charged the 65-year-old French-Lebanese-Brazilian citizen with falsifying his income by ¥9.1 billion over an eight-year period. Ghosn’s legal team insists the former CEO, who claimed the money would be paid after his retirement, didn’t receive any unreported compensation and that Nissan never committed to pay.

Ghosn is also accused of making Nissan bear the cost of his personal losses from currency derivative trading and expropriated its money to a Saudi firm and an Omani distributor. The defense team contended that Nissan suffered no loss and that the payments to those parties were legal.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Junichiro Hironaka, one of Ghosn’s defense attorneys, said that while the team’s accusations against the prosecution may seem like an outrageous conspiracy theory, they are supported by evidence.

Additionally, the defense asserted that Ghosn is innocent of all charges, again challenging prosecutors’ allegations that Ghosn deliberately underreported his income and misappropriated the company’s money for personal use.

“From our perspective, this case in general is fabricated,” Hironaka told reporters at the Tokyo District Court. “Therefore, it doesn’t need a trial and should be dismissed. Even if the trial goes on, we insist that (Ghosn) is not guilty on all charges.”

Thursday’s announcements, made almost a year since Ghosn’s initial arrest, revealed the defense team’s strategies for the first time and set the stage for a legal showdown. The first trial date has yet to be set, Hironaka said.

The defense and the prosecutors have been meeting about once a month since May, in pretrial procedures held in the presence of a judge, to clarify points of contention. Hironaka said those procedures will continue into next year.

During the 50-minute news conference, Hironaka took swings at the Japanese judiciary’s “immature” system for discovery of evidence. The attorney said the prosecutors have shown them the evidence they will use in the trial to argue their case.

However, Hironaka said the prosecutors are withholding other evidence the defense team had yet to see, including 6,000 items like email messages Nissan asked the prosecutors not to show to the defense.

Hironaka was confident that the prosecutors’ reluctance to reveal the evidence suggests it will favor the defense team.

Ghosn’s downfall is seen as more than a corporate case about an executive accused of white collar crimes. It has had serious repercussions for Japanese companies as well as its legal spheres.

Following his arrests and subsequent indictments, Ghosn was stripped of all of his titles at Nissan as well as its partners Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. His ouster threw the auto alliance into disarray, spurring leadership shake-ups that eventually drove Nissan’s Hiroto Saikawa and Renault’s Thierry Bollore out of their CEO positions.

The case has also put the Japanese criminal justice system under a global spotlight. Some critics describe its use of extended detentions and interrogations without a lawyer present as “hostage justice.”

Ghosn is free on bail in Japan but isn’t permitted to see his wife, Carole Ghosn, as per one of the bail conditions. Hironaka said the defense will file a petition with the court by Wednesday to scrap that restriction.

In a recent interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Carole Ghosn slammed the French government for not offering adequate support for her husband.

The framing of Ghosn “has been done based on a policy or an idea not to cede Nissan to France,” Hironaka said. “I think this case (against Ghosn) is perhaps the biggest politically motivated investigation (in the country).”

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