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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Ghosn lawyer fears new charges over payments

Former Nissan chairman to publicly address allegations in 'near future'

Carlos Ghosn's lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said his client was planning to speak out in the "near future."   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Former Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn could face new charges after reports that French prosecutors have been alerted to further suspicious payments worth millions of euros, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

"We believe that there is a possibility that prosecutors will make another charge against Mr. Ghosn on a different matter," Junichiro Hironaka told reporters at his first press conference in almost a month, adding that he feared Ghosn's trial could run for over two years.

News of the latest charges comes as Ghosn prepares to speak publicly for the first time since his March 6 release on bail of nearly $9 million after more than three months in Tokyo Detention Center.

His arrest last November for alleged financial misconduct shook the world's largest automotive alliance and saw him removed as chairman of Nissan Motor and chairman and chief executive of Renault.

While Hironaka said he had not spoken to Ghosn about the latest allegations, he said his client was planning to speak out in the "near future." Hironaka said Ghosn denied all wrongdoing.

Ghosn, 65, an automotive industry giant, is facing charges of under-reporting his remuneration over nine years by approximately 9.2 billion yen ($82 million).

The Brazilian-born tycoon has also been charged with aggravated breach of trust over allegedly transferring 1.85 billion yen in foreign exchange losses to Nissan, and payments worth 1.6 billion yen in company funds to a Saudi acquaintance from 2009 to 2012.

French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Monday that Renault had alerted French prosecutors to millions of euros in suspicious payments starting in 2011 made to a distributor in Oman.

The money did not come from marketing and sales expenses and much of it was subsequently channeled to a Lebanese company controlled by a Ghosn acquaintance, the newspaper reported.

In his role as chairman of Nissan, Ghosn also allegedly paid 3.5 billion yen to the same Omani supplier. Ghosn is also alleged to have used Nissan's "CEO reserve" to fund personal expenses.

Renault launched a formal investigation of Ghosn's conduct immediately following his November arrest.

It is apparently the second time that Renault has alerted prosecutors to suspicious activities during Ghosn's tenure, deciding in February to report a questionable deal with the Chateau de Versailles where Ghosn allegedly used company money to fund his 2016 wedding.

Meanwhile, Hironaka said he had submitted a petition to a Tokyo court on Tuesday to separate trials for Ghosn and Nissan, as the automaker as corporate is also indicted for under reporting Ghosn's salary. It would be unfair for judges, whose decisions are likely to be affected by prosecutors' statements including content approved by Nissan, to preside over Ghosn's trial, Hironaka said.

"It is against a fair-trial that Mr. Ghosn and Nissan sit at the same table as defendants," Hironaka said, adding that it was clear that Nissan executives would agree with any statements made by prosecutors.

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