Ghosn rearrested on new charges

Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole surrounded by members of the press on Wednesday.
Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole surrounded by members of the press on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Renault flags potential abuse by its former chief over reserve fund

Carlos Ghosn, the once-feted car mogul credited with saving Nissan and Renault from the brink but now ousted from both companies, was arrested again in Tokyo yesterday.

Hours earlier, in Paris, the French automaker said it has asked prosecutors to look into potential wrongdoing by Ghosn, 65, in the alleged payments of some €10 million (S$15.2 million) to an Oman-based distributor from a fund that was under his control as chairman.

Renault, which has thus far shied away from publicly condemning Ghosn, said an internal probe found "questionable and concealed practices" which were in violation of company ethics.

These developments came nearly one month after Ghosn, accused of three charges of financial misconduct at Nissan, was released on bail after 108 days in detention, and one day after he promised a tell-all at a news conference next week.

It is extremely rare for a suspect to be arrested again in Japan without any breach of bail conditions. Just like his first arrest on Nov 19 on the tarmac of Haneda Airport, Ghosn was taken from his court-sanctioned home in Shibuya at about 7am before a crowd of waiting domestic reporters, apparently tipped off by the Prosecutors' Office.

Japanese prosecutors are looking into what they reportedly term the "Oman route", and the latest detention, they said, was necessary due to risks that evidence could be destroyed in the fresh suspicions of aggravated breach of trust.

Ghosn is now accused of tapping a reserve fund that he had direct control of as chief executive officer to make payments amounting to US$15 million (S$20.3 million) to an Oman-based dealership between December 2015 and July last year.

Of this amount, US$5 million was then allegedly funnelled back into a bank account that Ghosn had substantial control of, and was used to make purchases like a luxury yacht for his family.

He has not been charged in connection with the latest accusation, which comes on top of two charges for not declaring an income of nine billion yen (S$109 million) over a period of eight years, and a separate charge over a complex scheme to transfer 1.85 billion yen in personal losses to Nissan in 2008.

 
 
 

Ghosn called his arrest "outrageous and arbitrary", and alleged boardroom intrigue in a statement sent via a spokesman to the media.

"It is part of another attempt by some individuals at Nissan to silence me by misleading the prosecutors. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken," he said, while professing his innocence in "all the groundless charges and accusations".

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told BFM TV that Ghosn was getting French consular protection.

Ghosn's lead defence lawyer Junichiro Hironaka called the arrest "utterly inappropriate", saying it was "not based on a completely unrelated, new charge". He accused prosecutors of trying to "turn the tide in their favour by resorting to hostage justice".

There was no risk of Ghosn tampering with evidence or fleeing the country, Mr Hironaka said, adding that it was within the prosecutors' right to slap additional charges or call Ghosn in for voluntary questioning without detaining him again.

He told a news conference that it was "unforgivable" that the prosecutors had also seized as evidence the passport and mobile phone of Ghosn's wife Carole in the early-morning raid.

"She is not a suspect," he said. "Ghosn's wife happened to be with him when he was arrested, so they confiscated her passport and her mobile."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline 'Ghosn rearrested on new charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe