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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Ghosn calls on France to intervene, saying he is 'trapped'

Fresh arrest escalates ex-Nissan boss' battle of narratives with prosecutors

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves his lawyer's office in Tokyo on Wednesday. Ghosn was rearrested the following day. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)

TOKYO/PARIS -- Carlos Ghosn, the former head of the Nissan-Renault automaking alliance, maintained his innocence in a video taken before his fourth arrest in Japan Thursday on new charges of misusing corporate money.

"I'm appealing to the French government to defend me and to preserve my rights as a citizen trapped in an unbelievable chain of events abroad," Ghosn told French news channel LCI in an interview via video call partially released online Thursday.

"I'm ready for a fight. I'm innocent. It's tough, you have to know that," he added.

Thursday's arrest marks an escalation of the battle between the Brazilian-born Frenchman and Japanese prosecutors seeking to portray him as a rogue executive who turned Nissan Motor into his personal property.

Ghosn, who has maintained his innocence since his first arrest last November, has turned again to the media to try to take control of the narrative. He was arrested a day after he wrote on his new Twitter account that he will "tell the truth about what is happening" at a news conference next week.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, meanwhile, is turning up the pressure on the former executive. While his first three arrests were based on somewhat lighter allegations -- such as failing to report compensation in annual securities filings -- the arrest this time was over suspicion of diverting Nissan money to a bank account controlled by Ghosn and directly inflicting damage on the automaker.

The breakthrough for prosecutors came when they succeeded in identifying the exact bank account used in the alleged scheme. They initially had difficulty gathering evidence on the Middle East transactions. But by going through email and accounting documentation provided by Nissan, they landed on an account controlled by a Lebanese company.

"Lots of lies are being told, and those lies are being revealed one after another," Ghosn told LCI. "Not a single day, a single week, passes without new accusations. There are several people inside Nissan who are the cause of that," he said, suggesting a plot against him at the Japanese automaker.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told local news channel BFM on Thursday that Ghosn "should benefit from the presumption of innocence." Le Maire said his own role was to ensure the smooth governance of Renault, which is 15% owned by the French state.

Ghosn recorded another video before his arrest, said Junichiro Hironaka, who leads the former auto executive's defense team. Hironaka did not say when that video would be released.

Ghosn's arrest while on bail is an extremely rare move for prosecutors.

"A careful decision was made based on what can definitely be proved," a prosecutor said. "There is nothing here to complain about."

A car believed to be carrying former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives at the Tokyo detention center on Thursday.   © Kyodo

Ghosn already faced financial misconduct charges involving underreporting his compensation over several years and a charge of aggravated breach of trust tied to allegations that he transferred to Nissan personal trading losses from foreign exchange contracts. In the latter case, no actual damage was inflicted on Nissan.

This time, the charge of aggravated breach of trust actually points to Ghosn channeling Nissan money to an account controlled by himself.

Between December 2015 and July 2018, a total of $15 million was transferred from a Nissan subsidiary to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, an Omani distributor run by a Ghosn associate. The money was ostensibly for marketing expenses.

Prosecutors say about $5 million of this money was then channeled to a bank account belonging to Good Faith Investments, an investment company in Lebanon over which Ghosn had substantial control. Ghosn's family originates from Lebanon.

Good Faith Investments is also suspected of transferring funds to a U.S. company managed by Ghosn's son, people familiar with the investigation said.

Sources said that the money was allegedly sent through multiple companies to the account controlled by Ghosn. This was intended to hide the misconduct, according to prosecutors, who continue their investigation.

Ghosn, who was released on bail March 6 after more than three months in detention, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that he intended to hold a news conference April 11. Hours later he was being taken to a Tokyo detention center, where he will be barred from contact with friends and family.

Hironaka accused prosecutors of violating Ghosn's rights after they confiscated documents and notebooks in his apartment in Tokyo that were being used to prepare for his defense against previous charges. Prosecutors also took items belonging to Ghosn's wife, who is not under investigation.

"This is a violation of defense rights," said Hironaka. "We wonder if this [confiscation] was the objective of prosecutors. This should not be happening in a civilized country."

Hironaka said Tokyo prosecutors were expected tomorrow to request that Ghosn be detained, and that the defense team would appeal if this were approved. Ghosn could be detained for 20 days, in addition to the 108 days he has already served.

Akiko Yamakawa, a lawyer at Vanguard Lawyers Tokyo, questioned Ghosn's arrest. Hironaka had already indicated that he would be prepared to attend a voluntary hearing. "Japan's 'hostage justice' makes it easier for prosecutors to investigate while Ghosn is detained," Yamakawa said.

Ghosn was first arrested in November after the results of an internal investigation at Nissan were handed over to prosecutors. He has accused Nissan executives of plotting against him to prevent integration with Renault, where he was also chairman.

Ghosn firmly denounced the arrest in a statement Thursday. The "outrageous and arbitrary" arrest 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 vowed.

Mitsuru Obe in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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