‘Politically Motivated’: Ex-Nissan Chair’s Lawyers Call Case a Conspiracy as Ghosn Pleads Not Guilty

October 24, 2019, 10:10 AM UTC

Lawyers for Carlos Ghosn entered pleas of not guilty on all charges against him, saying Nissan Motor Co.’s former chairman is the victim of a conspiracy between prosecutors, the government and the automaker to bring about his downfall.

All charges against Ghosn, who was arrested almost a year ago in November for alleged financial misconduct, should be dropped, his attorneys argued in documents submitted to the Tokyo District Court. Pretrial hearings are being held Thursday in the case against Ghosn and former Nissan executive Greg Kelly, who are free on bail in Japan ahead of a trial next year.

Ghosn served as chairman and chief executive officer of the world’s biggest auto alliance, one between Nissan, Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. His arrest destabilized the partnership and triggered a series of events that led to the ouster of the CEOs of Nissan and Renault. While the automakers struggle to restore profitability in an industry being disrupted by electrification and self-driving vehicles, Ghosn is fighting to prove his innocence and restore his reputation.

“The court filings demonstrate that the prosecutors’ case, which was politically motivated and poisoned from the start, is fundamentally flawed and contradicted by the evidentiary record,” Ghosn’s lawyer’s said in a statement. “This case should never have been brought.”

Ghosn is facing a total of four charges:

  • Violation of Financial Instruments and Exchange Law related to under-reporting of compensation and income during the fiscal years of 2010 to 2014.
  • Breach of trust related to under-reporting of foreign-exchange transactions
  • Breach of trust for allegedly transferring 1.85 billion yen ($16.7 million) of Ghosn’s own personal investment losses to Nissan, and for transactions in Saudi Arabia totaling $14.7 million that were made from a Nissan unit to another account between June 2009 and March 2012, which allegedly inflicted damage on Nissan.
  • Breach of trust related to transactions made in Oman, for allegedly moving $5 million from Nissan to a dealership and then into a company he controlled in Lebanon, with the money flowing into companies headed by Ghosn’s wife and son.

Ghosn’s lawyers denied each charge in their submissions, which were formally filed earlier this month. They made the documents, as well as a statement, public today for the hearing. The filings will let “judges understand what opinions the defense side has and will be useful for our offense,” lawyer Junichiro Hironaka told the judicial press club in Tokyo.

Nissan declined to comment, while the prosecutor’s office said they couldn’t immediately comment.

Additionally, Ghosn’s lawyers laid out steps they believe prosecutors took to work with government officials and Nissan employees to build a case against Ghosn. There was “unlawful collusion between the prosecutors, government officials at Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and executives at Nissan, who formed a secret task force to drum up allegations of wrongdoing,” they said.

The goal was to oust Ghosn to prevent him from further integrating Nissan and Renault, which threatened the Japanese carmaker’s autonomy, according to Hironaka. To execute this plan, the prosecutors “ceded their investigative powers to certain Nissan employees and consultants, and together with Nissan, unlawfully trampled Ghosn’s legal rights in Japan and around the world,” the attorneys said. Although prosecutors have handed in the evidence that strengthens their case, they haven’t given the defense access to some 6,000 pieces of evidence which could support Ghosn’s case, Hironaka said.

Pre-trial hearings began in May at the Tokyo District Court’s 17th Criminal Court Division, aimed at narrowing the scope of charges in order to streamline legal proceedings and speed up the trial. Ghosn’s trials won’t begin sooner than April, according to his lawyers.

“If the charges are not dismissed, Mr. Ghosn is prepared to fight them vigorously,” the lawyers said.

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