TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn's newly appointed defense lawyer has come out swinging against Nissan, saying any allegations against the former chairman should have been handled in-house rather than involving prosecutors.
Attorney Junichiro Hironaka, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, called it "strange" that prosecutors have been involved in the matter and insisted that Ghosn had followed all company procedures.
"The processes should have been reviewed within the company," Hironaka said. "It is not something that should have gone to prosecutors."
Hironaka said he expects Ghosn's first trial to start "sometime in autumn," depending on how long prosecutors feel they need to build their case. A Tokyo court decided last week to hold pretrial proceedings.
"Right now Nissan and prosecutors are well ahead, and we need to catch up," he said.
Hironaka also voiced concern over the possibility that the case against Ghosn could affect Japan's business environment. Outside observers, he said, could see the former executive's sudden arrest as a sign that it is risky to do business in the country.
He declined to comment on the possibility of Ghosn's bail request being approved and said his client did not tell him why he decided to change lawyers.
Hironaka, nicknamed "the Razor," is known for successfully defending high-profile clients, including Ichiro Ozawa, a politician who was accused of breaking political fundraising laws. Hironaka also won the acquittal of a former health ministry official who was accused of postal-related fraud.
Hironaka was appointed to lead the pretrial proceedings for Ghosn, which is expected to begin soon. During these proceedings the prosecution and defense present their evidence to the Tokyo District Court judge.
Pretrial proceedings took more than eight months on average in 2017, according to the Supreme Court.
Ghosn issued a statement last week after hiring Hironaka: "I look forward to defending myself vigorously, and this represents the beginning of the process of not only establishing my innocence but also shedding light on the circumstances that led to my unjust detention."
Prosecutors will not want to rush the process, according to Hiroshi Kadono, a lawyer and former judge in the Tokyo courts. Kadono says they will want time to investigate the flow of Ghosn's money overseas and any dealings with a Saudi acquaintance in relation to an alleged breach of trust by Ghosn.
The defense's strategy will be to wrap up the proceedings as quickly as possible to allow Ghosn to be released on bail, Kadono added.
Ghosn has been held in the Tokyo Detention Center for three months, and several requests for bail have been rejected. The Brazilian-born executive has been charged with underreporting his remuneration over nine years by approximately 9.2 billion yen ($82 million) and with aggravated breach of trust against Nissan. He denies all wrongdoing.
His former defense lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, previously served as head of an investigative division of the Tokyo prosecutors' office specializing in white-collar crimes. He took the role after Ghosn was arrested on Nov. 9, but in a January press conference predicted the former Nissan chairman could be detained for "at least another six months" before the start of his first trial.
It is not clear why Ghosn changed lawyers at this stage. Kadono however suggested that the move reflects a change in strategy. "Ghosn and his entourage probably initially thought [it would be better] to fight with a lawyer who knew the tactics of prosecutors," he said. "But they may have realized that now, before the pretrial proceedings, was the time to switch to an attorney with a track record of proving innocence."