National / Crime & Legal

Carlos Ghosn's wife wants him to go on trial in France, says he won't get a fair hearing in Japan

by Scarlet Fu, Ania Nussbaum and Kae Inoue

Bloomberg

A year after the dramatic arrest of Carlos Ghosn, his wife, Carole, said the fallen auto titan should face trial in France because he won’t be given a fair hearing in Tokyo.

Japan has a “hostage justice system” that considers those who are charged “guilty until proven innocent,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in New York. “They’ve put him away and now they’re looking for evidence.”

Carole, who is banned from seeing her husband, has also called for swifter justice following the November 2018 arrest, when Carlos Ghosn was head of a trio of global carmaking partners: Nissan Motor Co., Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. What is likely to be the nation’s biggest-ever corporate trial is set to begin as soon as April — although Carole suggested it could be postponed until after the Tokyo Olympics to avoid any harm to Japan’s reputation.

Carlos Ghosn’s legal battle has influenced global perceptions about executive life in Japan and fueled a debate about the country’s legal system. His wife has been active in speaking to the media and contacting politicians and human rights advocates to draw attention to legislation that allows authorities to detain suspects for lengthy periods. She has called on France, the U.S. and Brazil — countries where Carlos or she are citizens — to do more to help her husband.

The French government has “finally started to react,” she said. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Carlos Ghosn in Tokyo last month, with the consent of President Emmanuel Macron, she said. A group of French lawmakers have asked that he be brought to France to face trial, an idea quickly shot down Sunday by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who rejected any form of “interference” in Japan’s justice system.

In the interview, Carole criticized the fact that she hasn’t seen her husband in almost eight months and is getting updates through his children, family and lawyers. The Ghosn couple got permission from a Tokyo court for a one-hour exchange on Friday, according to a family spokeswoman, adding that they don’t know when they will be able to speak again. The conversation was limited to topics defined by the judge and will be reviewed by prosecutors, the spokeswoman said.

“They’ve destroyed our lives, we are scarred forever,” she said in the interview. “It’s been the hardest year of my life.”

The Ghosns were together when he was arrested in April for the fourth time, during an early morning raid at their apartment. Carole has said that her privacy was invaded in the process, with a female prosecutor waiting for her as she exited the shower. Her Lebanese passport and mobile phones were confiscated by the authorities, according to Ghosn’s lawyers.

She left Japan with her U.S. passport, though she came back for questioning the same month. “I was scared, I was all by myself in a country where I knew no one,” she said. “I did not run away.”

Carlos Ghosn was eventually released on bail due to pressure from Western countries, Carole said, adding that strict bail conditions mean he’s “still held hostage.”

Prosecutors detained Ghosn multiple times as they handed down indictments, and he is now facing a total of four charges. He has denied any wrongdoing.

He has been charged with financial misconduct related to alleged underreporting of compensation. He also stands accused of aggravated breach of trust: He was arrested over transactions that allegedly transferred Ghosn’s personal investment losses to Nissan and over transactions in Saudi Arabia that benefited Ghosn, and arrested again related to payments in Oman that allegedly moved money from a dealership into a company controlled by Ghosn in Lebanon.

Carole is also entangled in the allegations: In the charges related to the Oman payments, Ghosn is accused of moving $5 million from Nissan to a dealership and then into companies, including one headed by Carole and controlled by Carlos. She said in the interview she “knew nothing” about her husband’s business dealings and “has been cleared.”

Ghosn’s lawyers have said that they believe prosecutors worked with government officials and Nissan employees to build a case against Ghosn. There was “unlawful collusion between the prosecutors, government officials at Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and executives at Nissan, who formed a secret task force to drum up allegations of wrongdoing,” they said earlier this week.

The goal was to oust Ghosn to prevent him from further integrating Nissan and Renault, which threatened the Yokohama-based carmaker’s autonomy, according to Carole and Junichiro Hironaka, one of his lawyers.

To execute this plan, the prosecutors “ceded their investigative powers to certain Nissan employees and consultants, and together with Nissan, unlawfully trampled Ghosn’s legal rights in Japan and around the world,” the attorneys said.

Although prosecutors have handed in the evidence that strengthens their case, they haven’t given the defense access to some 6,000 pieces of evidence that could support Ghosn’s case, Hironaka said.

“Don’t you think there could have been a more civil way to do this?” Carole said in the interview, referring to any desire on the part of Nissan or the Japanese government to remove Ghosn from his corporate positions. “The board could have met with him and spoken to him, and said we’d like you to step down.”