Carlos Ghosn will on Tuesday appear in public to give his side of the story for the first time since the auto tycoon’s shock arrest in Japan stunned the world.
The 64-year-old former Nissan boss will attend a hearing at the Tokyo District Court where the judge will explain the reasons for his continued detention on suspicion of financial misconduct.
The hearing, requested by Ghosn himself, is likely to be short and relatively procedural — probably lasting less than an hour, explained Japanese lawyer Yasuyuki Takai.
The judge will give brief and “not very detailed” reasons for Ghosn’s continued detention and the businessman is then in theory allowed to “say what he wants until the judge asks him to stop”.
“This hearing will have no bearing on the rest of the case. There’s no chance that Ghosn’s release will be ordered tomorrow,” Takai told AFP.
But Ghosn’s case has shown the ability to surprise from the moment prosecutors stormed the tycoon’s private jet at a Tokyo airport on November 19, with the twists and turns gripping Japan and the business world.
Ghosn faces a host of allegations of financial impropriety.
Prosecutors have formally charged him over suspicions he under-declared some five billion yen ($44 million) from his salary in documents to investors over five fiscal years from 2010 — apparently to avoid accusations he was paid too much.
Authorities also suspect he continued this scheme over the next three tax years, seeking to defer another four billion yen of his salary until after retirement.
A third, more complex, accusation is that he sought to shift personal foreign exchange losses onto Nissan’s books and then paid a business contact from Saudi Arabia some $14.7 million — supposedly from company funds — who allegedly stumped up collateral for him.
– ‘Vigorous defence’ –
Ghosn has not been formally charged over the latter two allegations and is preparing to defend himself “vigorously” in court, according to his son Anthony in an interview with French weekly Journal du Dimanche.
“For the first time, he will be able to explain all the charges against him and give his version and I think everyone will be quite surprised to hear his version of the story,” the 24-year-old was quoted as saying.
Anthony, who has not spoken to his father, said he would be released if he signed a confession.
He can “tell the prosecutor that he is contesting the charges or instead he could confess and be released. For seven weeks, his decision has been quite clear,” he said.
“The paradox is that the confession he has been asked to sign is written only in Japanese,” adding that his father does not understand it.
Anthony said his father would appear “in prisoner’s uniform and in handcuffs” but Takai said Ghosn would be able to “wear what he wants but will be handcuffed until he enters the hearing room.”
The high-profile Ghosn case has thrown the spotlight on the Japanese legal system, which has been criticised in some quarters for the practice of extending custody periods for suspects without formal charges being pressed.
On December 31, the court again extended his detention until January 11, at which point prosecutors could rearrest him to question him over other allegations or could free him on bail.
– ‘Family the priority’ –
Ghosn is a legendary figure in the auto industry and is credited with turning around a struggling Nissan — also giving him a high profile rare for foreign executives in Japan.
He forged an unlikely three-way alliance between Mitsubishi Motors, Renault and Nissan that now outsells any other rival group.
But his arrest has laid bare divisions in the tie-up. Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors promptly removed him as chairman whereas the French firm has kept him on while he fights the allegations.
In an interview with AFP on the eve of the hearing, current Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa however insisted: “I don’t think it’s in danger at all.”
Anthony painted a picture of a devoted family man for whom “money is only a way to help those he loves, not an end in itself”.
“He takes his role as a father even more seriously than his role as head of a major company. For him, family is always the priority.”