Ousted Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s new lawyer hasn’t wasted any time going on the offensive, calling out not only the automaker that has accused the former exec of financial misdeeds, but also the prosecutors who have refused to release Ghosn on bail after three months in detention.
The 64-year-old Ghosn was arrested on Nov. 19, shortly after his corporate jet landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. He has been charged with several crimes, including the concealment of about $88 million in income. The allegations arose out of an internal investigation Nissan said was triggered by a whistleblower.
“This should been dealt with as an internal matter,” Junichiro Hironaka said at a Wednesday media briefing in Tokyo. Hironaka is known as “the Razor” for his ability to help high-profile clients win acquittal in a country where prosecutors routinely win convictions in over 90% of their cases.
Ghosn’s trial is still months away, but he has been hoping to win bail, as did his associate Greg Kelly who was arrested at the same time in November but released on Christmas Day. Prosecutors have so far successfully convinced the court in Tokyo that Ghosn poses a flight risk and could attempt to tamper with evidence if given bail.
The Brazilian-born executive originally hired a legal team led by a former Japanese prosecutor, but observers have suggested he didn’t make an aggressive enough case for Ghosn’s freedom. Hironaka’s first news conference indicated he will take a more aggressive style that could include a direct attack on the Japanese legal system.
(Shake-up and set-back for Ghosn. Click Here for the story.)
It has come under fire from some observers who point to the way Ghosn has not only been denied bail but held in solitary confinement in a small cell with only a mat on the floor. Prosecutors were staging daily interrogations at that point and were pressing the former Nissan boss to sign a confession written in Japanese, a language Ghosn does not speak.
The executive appeared gaunt during a hearing in early January and Ghosn’s son told a French news outlet that his father had already lost 22 pounds.
“He is innocent of all charges,” Hironaka said Wednesday, including allegations Ghosn steered nearly $15 million to a Saudi Arabian businessman improperly.
Hironaka appears to be trying to shift public sentiment to favor Ghosn and question the motives of both prosecutors and Nissan management. Ghosn himself dubbed his arrest as part of a “coup,” during an interview with the Japanese news outlet Nikkei earlier this month.
(Click Here to see how “plot and treason” brought Ghosn down, jailed exec says.)
As TheDetroitBureau.com has reported, a number of current and former insiders with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance have raised questions of their own about the case. One source close to the Nissan board indicated that the charges appear to have been engineered to help Nissan distance itself from its French partner.
Renault pulled together a $6 billion bailout in 1999 that helped the Japanese automaker avoid bankruptcy. But with a current stake of 43.4%, the French automaker now has a dominant say in alliance operations and can appoint board members and senior executives unilaterally. Ghosn was openly discussing the possibility of engineering a full merger in the months before his arrest.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa has tried to walk a fine line in recent weeks. While expressing his desire for greater autonomy, the automaker has given a board seat to Renault’s newly appointed Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard – who took over that position after Ghosn resigned from the French automaker late last month.
It has been widely reported that Senard was in the running to also become Nissan chairman. But, according to the Reuters news service, that proposal has been rejected by a special, external committee that was set up by Nissan to address corporate governance issues touched on by the Ghosn affair.
(Ghosn affair hits Nissan’s bottom line, along with weak sales. Click Here for the story.)
A number of observers have questioned why it would have taken a so-called whistleblower to reveal the allegations against Ghosn. Numerous sources have told TheDetroitBureau.com they cannot understand how, among other things, such a large payment to Ghosn could have been authorized without the knowledge of the carmaker’s board and other top executives. The automaker has also been charged with financial irregularities by Japanese prosecutors.