March 25, 2019

Ghosn protests innocence in first Japan court appearance

08 January 2019, 10:28 | Hattie Nash

Ghosn protests innocence in first Japan court appearance

After weeks in jail where he is being held for alleged financial crimes former Nissan Motor Co chairman Carlos Ghosn will have 10 minutes to address the Tokyo district court

Ghosn said he had "acted honorably, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company with the sole goal of supporting and strengthening Nissan", according to a statement released to some media including The Associated Press before the hearing, by people familiar with the case.

The once high-flying executive, dressed in a dark suit and without a tie, was handcuffed as he entered the court; a rope around his waist.

Ghosn, who holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationality, has denied all of the allegations made against him, according to the sources.

"Contrary to the accusations made by the prosecutors, I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed, nor did I ever enter into any binding contract with Nissan to be paid a fixed amount that was not disclosed", he said in the statement.

A crowd of journalists and television crew gathered outside the court building in the Japanese capital for Ghosn's appearance which was requested by his lawyers to explain the reasons for the auto industry heavyweight's prolonged detention.

Khaled Juffali Company issued a statement "to help set the record straight", saying the $14.7 million United States in payments over four years from Nissan "were for legitimate business purposes in order to support and promote Nissan's business strategy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and included reimbursement for business expenses".

Ghosn was re-arrested, but not indicted on December 21, on allegations he transferred personal investment losses worth 1.85bn yen ($17m) to the carmaker.

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Meanwhile, a Saudi partner of Nissan came to the defense of Mr Ghosn after a $14.7 million payment to the Middle Eastern company came under the scrutiny of prosecutors in the probe.

Ghosn has been held in Spartan conditions at a Tokyo detention facility since he was taken into custody.

At the same time, Renault, which benefits from the status quo that Ghosn enforced at the alliance, has been wary of making changes under pressure that could potentially increase the clout of Nissan, which has said that the structure of the alliance should be reviewed.

The case has rattled Nissan's alliance with French automaker Renault SA RENA.PA , where Ghosn still remains chairman and chief executive.

His courtroom appearance drew worldwide attention, with throngs of cameras set up outside the Tokyo Detention Center on Tuesday to capture his departure.

Carlos Ghosn rejected claims he failed to disclose income from Nissan Motor and passed on trading losses to the auto maker, in his first public comments since his shock arrest nearly two months ago. Later, Mr Ghosn will be allowed to address the court in English.

The board of Nissan fails to agree a replacement for Ghosn as tensions grow in the firm's alliance with Renault. Kelly, who suffers from spinal stenosis, was later released on bail and is being treated at a hospital in Ibaraki Prefecture. He also has maintained his innocence.

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Tokyo prosecutors have repeatedly extended Ghosn's detention by adding new allegations. The latest is suspicion of breach of trust stemming from the claim he had Nissan temporarily shoulder his personal investment losses.

Tokyo prosecutors initially arrested Ghosn and his close aide, Greg Kelly, on November 19 for allegedly understating in Nissan's securities reports roughly ¥5 billion ($46 million) of Ghosn's ¥10 billion remuneration during the five years through March 2015.

Ghosn's detention now runs through Friday.

If prosecutors charge him with either of the outstanding allegations that would also restart the pre-trial detention clock.

Mitsubishi Motors executives, meeting in Tokyo, vote unanimously to oust Ghosn as chairman.

- What is Ghosn accused of? He said four major companies tried to recruit him while he was Nissan CEO.

Under Japanese law, falsifying financial reporting carries the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a 10 million yen ($89,000) fine, or both.

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The former Nissan top executive has been formally charged with under-reporting his income.

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