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Auto executive Carlos Ghosn indicted on fresh charges by Japanese prosecutors

Former Nissan chief accused of transferring personal losses to company and more under-reporting of income

Carlos Ghosn has been in detention in Japan since his arrest on November 19, 2018. Reuters
Carlos Ghosn has been in detention in Japan since his arrest on November 19, 2018. Reuters

Carlos Ghosn was indicted on financial crimes for a second time in Japan, as prosecutors continue to build their case against the fallen car titan who has been in a Tokyo jail for almost two months.

The ousted Nissan Motor chairman was indicted on Friday for acts including temporarily transferring personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008, as well as for understating his compensation for three years to March 2018. Last month, he was indicted for under-reporting his income for an earlier period.

His lawyers said on Friday that they plan to apply for bail.

An indictment in Japan allows prosecutors to lay formal charges, a step that takes them close to trial. That could be as long as six months away and it is unlikely Mr Ghosn will be released on bail before that, his lawyers said this week before losing an appeal against his ongoing detention.

The arrest of the high-flying executive on November 19 at Tokyo’s Haneda airport has jolted the world’s biggest auto alliance, raising questions over whether the two-decade partnership between Nissan and French partner Renault SA will survive his downfall. While Nissan dismissed Mr Ghosn as chairman shortly after his arrest, Renault has retained him as chairman and chief executive officer, saying it needs evidence of his wrongdoing.

Since Mr Ghosn’s initial arrest, prosecutors have repeatedly extended his detention and re-arrested him over new allegations. Gaunt, handcuffed and with a rope around his waist, the 64-year-old appeared before a judge in a Tokyo court on January 8 - the first time he was seen in public since his shock arrest. Mr Ghosn gave a full-throated rebuttal to the allegations against him, saying he had been wrongfully accused, was innocent and that the accusations were without merit.

Mr Ghosn’s lawyers said on Thursday that the executive had developed a fever, which has subsided since. A doctor was tending to Mr Ghosn, who is tired from the long detention and interrogations and has been locked up in a small Tokyo jail cell with a toilet and wash basin.

At the court, Mr Ghosn said his actions were backed by managers inside the company as well as external lawyers. For example, his retirement payments were reviewed by legal experts inside Nissan as well as independent lawyers, and showed no intention of breaking the law. Another accusation - that he rolled personal investment losses on to Nissan - came to no cost to the company, he said. Mr Ghosn said he always acted with integrity and had never been accused of any wrongdoing in his professional career.

Mr Ghosn’s aide Greg Kelly, who was arrested at the same time over his alleged role in helping the executive understate his pay, was released on a bail at 70 million yen (Dh2.3m) on December 25. Mr Kelly has also denied wrongdoing, saying he would restore his name in court. Nissan has dismissed him from his role as a representative director.

Mr Ghosn has been widely credited with saving Nissan from failure in the late 1990s and bringing it together with Renault. His arrest came after a months-long investigation by Nissan into his conduct, a probe that was largely kept from its French partner. That lack of transparency and concern that Nissan will use Mr Ghosn’s absence to push for more power within the alliance has heightened tensions between the two automakers.

Japan’s prosecutors have faced criticism for a lack of clarity and communication on how they 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. If and when Mr Ghosn is released on bail, his movements are likely to be restricted to his home or a hotel, and he will need a court permission to leave the country, legal experts have said.

If proven, each of Mr Ghosn’s alleged offences may carry a sentence of as much as 10 years, prosecutors have said. Nissan has also accused Mr Ghosn of misusing company funds, including over homes from Brazil to Lebanon and hiring his sister on an advisory contract. The prosecutors have not charged him over these allegations.

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The Ghosn drama has also raised questions about Nissan’s corporate governance, with the allegations spanning at least a decade. Nissan, as a company, has also been indicted along with Mr Ghosn for the pay understatement.

Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa has sought to reassure staff that the carmaker is addressing governance shortcomings. This week, Nissan said its board took on expanded powers and decided on an interim process to set compensation for directors and executives.

Nissan’s board removed Mr Ghosn from the post of chairman on November 22. Renault, which is the biggest shareholder in Nissan, has refrained from removing Mr Ghosn, instead appointing interim replacements.

Renault’s most powerful shareholder, the French state, says Mr Ghosn is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has demanded Nissan share the evidence it has collated against him. Renault’s board met on Thursday and confirmed that compensation paid to directors in the past two years complied with law, while making no decision on Mr Ghosn’s role at the company.

Mr Saikawa - a one-time protege of Mr Ghosn - has emerged as a driving force in the carmaker’s investigation into the alleged wrongdoing by Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly.

Mr Kelly’s wife, Dee Kelly, has said their arrests were the result of a coup by executives including Mr Saikawa.

Mr Saikawa was asked by reporters on the day Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly were arrested whether a coup was under way at Nissan. He replied: “That is not my understanding. I didn’t make such an explanation and think you should not think of it that way.”

Updated: January 11, 2019 12:07 PM

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