Handcuffed and Roped Up, Carlos Ghosn Will Address Court in Person
(Bloomberg) -- Carlos Ghosn will speak publicly on Tuesday for the first time since his arrest almost two months ago, when he appears in a Japanese court.
Handcuffed and with a rope tied around his waist, as is the practice in Japanese courts, the 64-year-old former Nissan Motor Co. chairman will declare his innocence and deny any wrongdoing, said his chief lawyer, Motonari Otsuru. After weeks in jail, where he is being held for alleged financial crimes, Ghosn will have 10 minutes to address the Tokyo district court.
It’s the executive’s first opportunity to mount a defense in person following industry-shaking allegations that he under-reported his compensation and transferred personal trading losses to Nissan. The hearing follows a request by Ghosn’s legal team for an explanation on why he remains in detention. It comes amid signs the embattled car titan is in danger of losing key allies at Nissan.
Jose Munoz, Nissan’s chief performance officer, is taking a leave of absence to assist in “special tasks arising from recent events,” the company said on Jan. 5. Munoz also sits on the board of the alliance Ghosn chairs between Nissan, France’s Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Arun Bajaj, who heads human resources at Nissan, has also taken a leave of absence, the company said.
Ghosn will be treated like any other suspect at Tuesday’s session, which starts at 10:30 a.m. Tokyo time. According to his legal team, Ghosn will appear before the judge, who will confirm personal details such as date of birth and address, before sitting in front of his lawyers. Later, Ghosn will be allowed to address the court in English. But neither he nor his lawyers will be permitted to talk to others there, such as family members or media.
For Ghosn’s lawyers, the hearing is a chance to argue his case and push back against his prolonged detention. The legal team, which will have 20 minutes to address the court, plans to insist there’s no evidence for the allegations against him and will probably ask for bail after the hearing, said Otsuru.
Ghosn’s legal team will speak to the media at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo at 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday. Otsuru is due to read a statement from Ghosn.
The architect behind Renault-Nissan alliance, Ghosn was initially held without charge. His arrest has shaken the world’s largest auto pact, amid speculation it was part of a coup by forces within Nissan aimed at staving off a merger of the carmakers.
The saga has taken twists and turns, with Ghosn re-arrested on fresh, potentially more serious charges Dec. 21, just when it looked like he may be able to apply for bail. Ghosn has been indicted on the allegations of under-reporting his income, though not yet on the accusation of transferring trading losses. In Japan, indictment paves the way for prosecutors to lay formal charges.
Ghosn’s downfall has raised questions about the future of the decades-old alliance. While Nissan dismissed him as chairman shortly after his arrest, Renault retained Ghosn as chairman and chief executive officer, saying it needs evidence of his wrongdoing. Now his role at Renault looks increasingly in doubt as well.
The French state, the carmaker’s biggest shareholder, is questioning whether Ghosn can remain at the helm of one of the country’s most important manufacturers, according to a senior government official. Ghosn would spend most of his time defending himself against accusations of financial improprieties rather than running a company, and his position at Renault is seen as unrecoverable, according to people close to Renault’s leadership team, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company matters.
Renault officials declined to comment.
Publicly, French officials have said that Ghosn deserves fair treatment and an opportunity to defend himself, particularly given his long service to Renault. On the other hand, the government may not want to be seen shielding one of the country’s highest-paid executives at a time of violent protests against rising living costs and tax cuts for the wealthy.
“There is a presumption of innocence,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in an interview on French radio Europe1 on Sunday. “I have nothing in hand that lets me demand Ghosn’s departure.”
If proven, each of Ghosn’s alleged offenses may carry a sentence of as much as 10 years, prosecutors have said. Nissan has also accused Ghosn of misusing company funds, including over homes from Brazil to Lebanon and hiring his sister on an advisory contract.
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Despite all demands to give Ghosn a fair shake, President Emmanuel Macron has been at odds with the executive and with Nissan since obtaining greater government control over Renault as economy minister a few years ago. Macron asked his administration last month to crack down on executives who avoid paying taxes in the country.
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.
Ghosn’s detention was last extended Dec. 31, putting him behind bars until at least Jan. 11. Ghosn has lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in jail and is biding time by reading books, his son Anthony Ghosn told France’s Journal du Dimanche at the weekend.
Even if he is released on bail this week, Ghosn’s hardly going back to the globetrotting days he relished in more than a decade atop the alliance.
Instead, his movements would likely be restricted to his home or a hotel, and he would need court permission to leave the country, legal experts have said -- hardly a sustainable position for a manager who like few others has epitomized a jet-setting business aristocracy with multiple salaries and residences across the world.
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