Detained again, Nissan ex-chief Ghosn says arrest is ‘outrageous’

Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaving his lawyer's office in Tokyo, Japan, on April 3, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Carlos Ghosn, the once-feted car mogul credited for saving Nissan and Renault from the brink but now ousted from both companies, was back in detention in Tokyo on Thursday (April 4).

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 euros (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 that 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 spending 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 in 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 on Thursday (April 4) 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 for 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, professing his innocence against "all the groundless charges and accusations".

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told BFM TV that Ghosn was getting French consular protection.

Lead defence lawyer Junichiro Hironaka called the arrest "utterly inappropriate" as it was "not based on a completely unrelated, new charge (to the existing charges)". He accused prosecutors of attempting 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 him in for voluntary questioning without detaining him again.

He told a news conference that it was "unforgivable" that prosecutors, too, had 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."

Still, Japanese media on Thursday (April 4) cited unnamed sources in painting an intricate web of transactions that involves large sums of money being moved from Nissan into a bank account that was under Ghosn's control via several intermediaries.

These allegedly included a Lebanon-based firm called Good Faith Investments, whose chief was a senior official at the Oman distributor, an unnamed company represented by Ghosn's wife, and a US-based investment company headed by Ghosn's son.

Ghosn has maintained that these payments to the Middle East were for marketing and for incentive bonuses for local salesmen.

"After being wrongly imprisoned for 108 days, my biggest hope and wish today is for a fair trial," he said in his statement on Thursday.

"I was scheduled to present my story in a press conference next week; by arresting me again, the prosecutors have denied me that opportunity, for now, but I am determined that the truth will come out. I am confident that if tried fairly, I will be vindicated."

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