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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Did Ghosn's first Tweet spur former Nissan chief's re-arrest?

UPDATE: Ghosn's wife's passport, mobile confiscated as fallen executive's lawyer says Wednesday's Twitter comment did not violate his bail

Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole leave the office of his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka in Tokyo. AFP
Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole leave the office of his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka in Tokyo. AFP

Tokyo prosecutors confiscated the passport and mobile phone of Carlos Ghosn's wife, Carole, when they arrested the former Nissan boss on Thursday morning, his lawyer said, adding that the defence team would "strongly appeal" the latest arrest.

"Ghosn's wife happened to be with him when he was arrested, so they confiscated her passport and her mobile," said Junichiro Hironaka, who heads Mr Ghosn's Japanese defence team.

"His wife is not a suspect ... this is unforgivable," he tadded.

Mr Ghosn's sudden emergence on Twitter - which in 24 hours garnered almost 43,000 followers before he was re-arrested on Thursday - has raised questions about whether the former Nissan boss violated the strict terms of his $9 million bail, which his lawyer has denied.

"I don't know if he himself wrote the tweet, but he didn't violate bail conditions," said his lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, nicknamed "the Razor" for many high-profile cases he has won in a country where the conviction rate is 99.9 per cent.

Junichiro Hironaka, Mr Ghosn's lawyer, says former Nissan chief did not violate his bail with tweet. AFP
Junichiro Hironaka, lawyer for former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn. AFP

It is not uncommon for public figures to have assistants tweet on their behalf, dictated or otherwise.

Mr Ghosn was released on March 6 after more than three months in detention for charges including financial misconduct. At the time, his legal team said he had agreed to a series of conditions, including no access to the internet and that he could only use a computer not linked to the web at his lawyer's office.

However, it was not clear how the internet ban would be enforced and the bail terms were not made public - as is typical in Japan - making it difficult to determine details, Reuters said.

The issue was thrown into the spotlight after a tweet from new account @carlosghosn appeared in English and Japanese around midday on Wednesday.

It said: "I'm getting ready to tell the truth about what's happening. Press conference on Thursday, April 11."

Featuring a photo of a smiling, grey-haired Mr Ghosn in front of a cherry tree, now in full bloom in Japan - and symbolising the onset of spring for many Japanese - the account prompted journalists to try to ascertain its authenticity.

Forty minutes later, a blue tick appeared, showing that Twitter had verified the owner of the account.

If Mr Ghosn violates his bail conditions, which also included installing surveillance cameras in the entrance of his Tokyo residence, the Tokyo District Court could send him back to jail and make him forfeit his $9m.

However, Mr Hironaka said Mr Ghosn had not violated bail terms, saying his client could access the internet from a computer in the lawyers' office provided all usage was logged and reported to authorities. He did not elaborate on the discrepancy between the conditions initially disclosed last month.

"He expressed an interest in using Twitter awhile back, so as long as his lawyers checked the content, it was OK," said Mr Hironaka. "Just sending out tweets on his own would create problems."

The Tokyo District Court handling Mr Ghosn's case said it does not disclose bail conditions and that it was impossible to say whether the tweet had violated the terms. Such decisions are left to the judges handling the case, it said.

The Tokyo Prosecutors Office declined to comment, saying bail matters are handled by the court.

Early on Thursday, Mr Ghosn was subjected to a fourth arrest, this time on fresh charges of breach of trust at Nissan in what media reports linked to payments to an Omani vehicle dealer.

FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka's office in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
Mr Ghosn was re-arrested on Thursday. Reuters

Japanese media said he had been taken back to the Tokyo Detention Centre, where he spent 108 days after being first arrested in November.

Mr Ghosn faces charges of financial misconduct and aggravated breach of trust over allegedly failing to report around $82m in salary and temporarily transferring personal financial losses onto Nissan's books during the 2008 financial crisis.

"The suspect... was responsible for overseeing the whole of Nissan's operations and performing his duty loyally so as not to cause losses to Nissan, but he betrayed that duty in order to benefit himself," prosecutors said.

But Mr Ghosn's lawyer, who will give a press conference later Thursday, told AFP the prosecutors were engaging in "hostage justice".

"It's extremely unfair," Mr Hironaka told local media.

Mr Ghosn denies any wrongdoing.

Updated: April 4, 2019 11:20 AM

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