Nissan’s ex-chair Ghosn appears in court, asserts innocence

TOKYO (AP) – The former chairman of Japan’s Nissan Motor Co, Carlos Ghosn, denied any wrongdoing and proclaimed his loyalty to the company at a court hearing in Tokyo yesterday.

It was Ghosn’s first public appearance since he was arrested on November 19 and charged with false financial reporting.

“Your honour, I am innocent of the accusations against me,” Ghosn told the judge, speaking firmly and calmly as he read from a statement. “I am wrongfully accused.”

Prosecutors have charged Ghosn, who led a dramatic turnaround at the Japanese automaker over the past two decades, with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his income by about five billion yen (USD44 million) over five years through 2015.

They also said he is suspected of having Nissan temporarily take on his investment losses from the financial crisis.

This courtroom sketch depicts former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn in a courtroom at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo yesterday. – AP

Wearing a dark suit without a tie, and plastic slippers, Ghosn rebutted the allegations against him point-by-point and said he had the option to leave Nissan but had decided to stay on.

“A captain doesn’t jump ship during a storm,” he told the court in a strong voice.

The veteran auto executive, a familiar face at the World Economic Forum and other elite gatherings, was handcuffed and led into the courtroom with a rope around his waist as the hearing began. Officers uncuffed him and seated him on a bench.

Presiding judge Yuichi Tada then read out the charges and said Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, was considered a flight risk – he was arrested on his arrival in Tokyo by private jet – and might try to hide evidence.

In Japan, suspects are routinely held without bail, often due to fears about evidence tampering.

During yesterday’s hearing, Go Kondo, one of Ghosn’s lawyers, argued he was not a flight risk.

“He’s widely known so it’s difficult for him to escape. There is no risk that the suspect will destroy evidence,” he said.

Facing the courtroom, Ghosn spoke proudly of the automaker’s – and his own – achievements, such as reviving iconic models like the GT-R and the Z, expanding operations in China, Russia, Brazil and India and pioneering electric cars and autonomous driving.

“I have a genuine love and appreciation for Nissan,” he said.

Ghosn has been held in Spartan conditions at a Tokyo detention facility since he was taken into custody. In keeping with Japanese regulations, he has been allowed visits only from his lawyers and consular officials.

Ghosn said he had “acted honourably, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company with the sole purpose of supporting and strengthening Nissan,” according to a statement released to some media including The Associated Press before the hearing, by people familiar with the case. They requested anonymity because of the matters’ confidentiality.

“Contrary to the accusations made by the prosecutors, I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed,” his statement said.

Ghosn also defended payments questioned by prosecutors and by Nissan that were made to Khaled Juffali, a Saudi businessman.

He said the money was paid to Juffali for real work that he did to sort out problems with a local distributor.

Before the hearing, the Khaled Juffali Company issued a statement saying the USD14.7 million in payments over four years from Nissan “were for legitimate business purposes in order to support and promote Nissan’s business strategy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and included reimbursement for business expenses.”