Ousted Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn makes his first statement since his arrest

Irving Hamilton
January 8, 2019

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn said he had been "wrongly accused and unfairly detained" at a high-profile court hearing in Japan on Tuesday, his first appearance since his arrest in November rocked the business world.

Sent to Japan by Nissan's alliance partner Renault SA of France in 1999, Ghosn led a spectacular turnaround at the Yokohama-based automaker over two decades, during which he mostly served as chief executive. He wore a dark suit without a tie.

More than 1,000 people, including some Nissan shareholders, lined up for the 14 available courtroom seats dedicated to the public.

For his lawyers, it's a chance to argue the ex-Nissan chief's case and push back against his prolonged detention.

Presiding Judge Yuichi Tada read out the charges and said Ghosn was being detained due to flight risk and the possibility that he may hide evidence.

Ghosn is expected to remain in detention through his trial. The legal team is headed by former prosecutor Motonari Otsuru.

Ghosn has already been charged with under-reporting his compensation from 2010-2015, and prosecutors are investigating the following three years.

In the statement, Ghosn said the investment losses he was being accused of stemmed from his having to be paid in yen and he had asked Nissan to temporarily take on the collateral for foreign exchange contracts, and the company suffered no losses.

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He said if he had not been able to do this, he would have had to resign and use his retirement allowance as collateral instead.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa says a committee advising the board on the decision needs more time, while media reports suggest the indecision is in part because of open discord with French automaker Renault.

Ghosn's detention, meanwhile, was further extended after he was served with a third arrest warrant on December 21 for allegedly transferring personal investment losses worth ¥1.85 billion to Nissan in 2008.

Ghosn said in his prepared remarks that Juffali's company was compensated for "critical services that substantially benefited Nissan", including soliciting financing and solving problems involving a local distributor. He had been pushing for a deeper tie-up between the pair, including potentially a full merger at the French government's urging, despite strong reservations at Nissan.

His lengthy stay in a tiny, freezing cell at the Tokyo detention centre has drawn global criticism of Japan's "hostage justice", which allows prosecutors to re-arrest suspects several times over different allegations and to question them for up to eight hours a day without a lawyer present.

Ghosn was first arrested on 19 November and later charged on suspicion of under-reporting his salary by 5bn yen ($44m) over five years until 2016 - allegedly to avoid accusations from Nissan staff that he was overpaid.

He has been held at the Tokyo Detention Center, a spartan facility where small rooms have a toilet in the corner and no heater - a far cry from the jet-setting lifestyle Ghosn was accustomed to.

Ghosn's courtroom appearance attracted huge media attention, with cameras ranged along the streets to capture his departure from the detention centre and arrival at court.

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