Ghosn protests innocence in first Japan court appearance

Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Japan’s Nissan Motor Company, has told a Tokyo court he is innocent of charges of financial misconduct in his first public appearance since his November arrest.

“I have been wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” the Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry told the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday, according to a prepared statement which was obtained by Reuters news agency.

“Contrary to the accusations made by the prosecutors, I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed, nor did I ever enter into any binding contract with Nissan to be paid a fixed amount that was not disclosed.”

A crowd of journalists and television crew gathered outside the court building in the Japanese capital for Ghosn’s appearance which was requested by his lawyers to explain the reasons for the auto industry heavyweight’s prolonged detention.

More than 1,000 people queued for a chance to sit in one of the 14 seats available in the court which were assigned by lottery.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from outside the court, said the case had broad ramifications, including diplomatic relations between Japan and France and corporate governance within the Asian country itself.

“This was the man who turned around Renault in the 1990s and did the same for Nissan,” McBride said. “With Mitsubishi, this alliance of carmakers was reckoned to be the third largest automaker in the world so there are bigger implications.”

Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn ‘arrested for misconduct’

Turnaround man

Revered in the global auto industry, Ghosn was arrested on November 19 and charged with underreporting his income. He has been re-arrested twice on different charges since, a tactic often used by Japanese prosecutors to keep suspects in detention.

The case has shaken Nissan’s alliance with Renault, where Ghosn remains chairman and chief executive. He had been pushing for a deeper tie-up between the two companies and at the urging of the French government had floated the possibility of a full merger, despite strong reservations at Nissan.

Ghosn appeared gaunt as he arrived in court, McBride said.

The once high-flying executive, dressed in a dark suit and without a tie, was handcuffed as he entered the court; a rope around his waist.

Ghosn’s lawyers, who have scheduled a press conference for Tuesday afternoon, are expected to ask for bail, but Tokyo prosecutors claim that he is a flight risk. 

Ghosn has been held in Tokyo’s Kosuge detention centre since November.

Under Japanese law, suspects can be detained without charge for up to 23 days, and then re-arrested on separate allegations.

The former Nissan top executive has been formally charged with under-reporting his income.

Ghosn was re-arrested, but not indicted on December 21, on allegations he transferred personal investment losses worth 1.85bn yen ($17m) to the carmaker.

Ten days later, the Tokyo District Court granted prosecutors’ request to extend Ghosn’s detention by 10 days until January 11.

Nissan, which has ousted Ghosn from its board, has said a whistleblower investigation also uncovered personal use of company funds and other financial wrongdoing.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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