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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Ghosn's bail bid rejected despite ankle tag offer

The former Nissan chief will remain in custody after Japanese court refused latest request for release

Fallen car star Carlos Ghosn will stay behind bars in Japan. Reuters
Fallen car star Carlos Ghosn will stay behind bars in Japan. Reuters

Carlos Ghosn’s bail application was rejected again, even after the one-time car titan offered to wear an electronic tracker and be monitored by guards to end his custody that has now lasted more than two months.

The latest rejection by a Tokyo court is a win for the prosecutors, who can now keep Mr Ghosn detained as they continue to build their case ahead of an eventual trial that could be as long as six months away. The former Nissan Motor chairman had also offered to surrender his passports - he holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship - and give shares as collateral.

He has been in custody since November 19, accused of financial crimes that could put him behind bars for decades. The fallen car star has been indicted for understating his income at Nissan by tens of millions of dollars and transferring personal trading losses to the car maker. Nissan also claims that Mr Ghosn misused company funds, including for homes from Brazil to Lebanon, and hired his sister on an advisory contract. Mr Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

His downfall, as sudden as it was unexpected, has roiled the two-decade alliance between Nissan and France’s Renault, which he dominated as chairman of both companies and of the entity that governs their partnership, according to Bloomberg. France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa were both quick to downplay a report in the Nikkei newspaper over the weekend that the French side was planning to put the two car makers under one holding structure.

In a statement released on Monday, Mr Ghosn repeated his intent to clear his name in court, Reuters reported.

"I will attend my trial not only because I am legally obligated to do so, but because I am eager to finally have the opportunity to defend myself," he said.

"I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom."

Since Mr Ghosn’s initial arrest, prosecutors have repeatedly extended his detention and re-arrested him over new allegations, while defence lawyers’ several bail applications have been refused. Mr Ghosn’s lawyers, represented by Motonari Otsuru, made a fresh application for bail on January 18.

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Mr Ghosn’s previous requests for release envisioned him heading to France before returning to Japan for trial. In his latest bid, he pledged to stay in Japan and gave a Tokyo apartment rented by his family as his address, whereas in his previous applications he had given a Paris address and a residence at the French embassy in Tokyo. He also offered to refrain from contact with anyone who could be a witness against him.

Japan’s legal system has faced criticism for a lack of clarity and communication on how prosecutors are handling the case, with Mr Ghosn held in detention without charge for longer than would be permitted in the UK for a suspected terrorist. While the Tokyo court didn’t give a reason for Tuesday’s bail rejection, a judge at a January 8 hearing said Mr Ghosn’s continued detention was because he presented a flight risk and posed the danger of witness and evidence tampering.

“The reason for the bail dismissal should be clarified,” said Nobuo Gohara, a lawyer and former prosecutor in Japan who isn’t connected to the case. Mr Gohara said he had expected the latest bail request to be successful because the terms Mr Ghosn offered would have made it practically impossible for him to destroy evidence.

Even a highly-restricted release would have allowed Mr Ghosn to more easily prepare for trial. As is customary in Japan, while in custody he’s been extensively interrogated without his lawyers present, and has no access to documents that could help him construct a defence. He has also been barred from seeing or communicating with his family.

While Nissan fired Mr Ghosn almost immediately, he still retains his posts at Renault and at the alliance - although probably not for much longer. Michelin chief executive Jean-Dominique Senard is expected to join Renault’s leadership, sources have told Bloomberg.

Renault’s executive board may meet on Wednesday and name Mr Senard non-executive chairman and head of the alliance, and at the same time appoint Thierry Bollore as Renault’s CEO, Le Figaro reported on Sunday. Mr Bollore is currently acting as CEO on an interim basis. A Renault spokesman declined to comment.

Tensions are simmering on both sides of the alliance because of its lopsided structure. While Nissan has outgrown Renault in sales and profits, the Japanese company has far less influence. It owns 15 per cent of Renault, which in turn has 43 per cent of Nissan. France is Renault’s most powerful shareholder, with a 15 per cent stake, extra voting rights and two seats on the board. Mitsubishi Motors was added to the alliance in 2016.

A delegation including Martin Vial, a Renault director designated by the French state, visited Japanese officials including Mr Saikawa in Tokyo last week. According to sources, the discussions focused on possible ways and ideas to cement the Renault-Nissan alliance, with the creation of a single holding company for both car makers being one of the options.

The sources emphasised that no proposal was made at the meeting and it’s too early to discuss concrete plans.

Mr Ghosn had been pushing for a closer integration before his arrest, including a possible merger, but Nissan has baulked.

Updated: January 22, 2019 12:16 PM

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