TOKYO -- Nissan's ex-chairman Carlos Ghosn was charged Friday with breach of trust, according to the Tokyo District Court, making the star executive's release unlikely for months.
Ghosn, arrested Nov. 19, was earlier charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his income by about $44 million over five years through 2015.
Ghosn; Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive; and Nissan as a legal entity also were charged Friday with additional underreporting of income, from 2015 through mid-2018.
The new allegations raise the stakes in a showdown between Ghosn -- until recently the head of the vast car-making alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi -- and the prosecutors, who have been working in tandem with whistleblowers inside Nissan. It also signals that prosecutors remain undeterred by Ghosn's recent assertion of innocence in court.
Ghosn's lawyers said they had applied for his release on bail, but the court was not expected to rule until at least Tuesday and could still choose to hold the executive for months.
Ghosn was also charged with improperly transferring personal losses to Nissan's books in 2008.
Ghosn has been in jail since November, when prosecutors seized him shortly after his corporate jet touched down at a Tokyo airport. He was later indicted, along with Kelly and Nissan itself, on suspicion of withholding millions of dollars in income from Nissan financial filings between 2011 and 2015, when he was chairman and chief executive of the company. Kelly, who has spinal stenosis, was released on bail on Christmas Day after 30 days in detention so that he could undergo surgery in Tokyo.
Now, Ghosn has been ousted as chairman by Nissan and Mitsubishi, although he remains on Nissan's board, throwing the alliance into turmoil. Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan's chief executive and a one-time protege of Ghosn, has rebuked his former boss, describing him as a "mastermind" of a long-running scheme to mislead financial authorities. Saikawa has not been accused of any crime.
On Friday, Nissan said in a statement submitted to prosecutors that the company had been harmed by Ghosn's conduct, alleging that the former chief had engaged in the "misuse of a significant amount of the company's funds."
The company added, "Nissan does not in any way tolerate such misconduct and calls for strict penalties."
Ghosn has denied the allegations, declaring at his first appearance at a court proceeding Tuesday that he had been "wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations."
Ghosn's attorneys said Friday that they expected the court to rule on their bail request Tuesday after a long holiday weekend. Motonari Otsuru, Ghosn's lead attorney in Tokyo and a former top prosecutor, has speculated that the authorities will seek to deny bail and that the executive's detention could stretch for months as the two sides head to court.
If the local court declines the bail request, Ghosn can legally be held for two more months. After that, prosecutors are entitled to request one-month extensions.
Ostensibly, bail could be denied on the grounds that as long as Ghosn continues to assert his innocence, he could flee the country or seek to destroy evidence, said Nobuo Gohara, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor who is critical of Japan's criminal justice system.
But he said that such concerns were unfounded, because Japanese authorities could easily block Ghosn from leaving the country and evidence has already been seized.
Still, "until suspects admit to their crimes, they are usually held," Gohara said. "It's like they are being held hostage."
Yet Kelly was released on bail late last month and has undergone surgery in Tokyo. As a condition of his bail, he is not allowed to leave Japan.
Ghosn's continued detention has cast a critical light on Japan's criminal justice system. Ghosn -- who has been formally arrested three times, prolonging his detention -- has faced interrogation without an attorney, and so far he has only been permitted to see diplomats or his Japanese lawyer.
On Thursday, Ghosn came down with a fever, his local counsel said, raising concerns over the 64-year-old executive's health. Ghosn was allowed to rest for a day on advice from government doctors, and his temperature was back to normal Friday morning, according to an update from his defense attorneys.
Ghosn's wife, Carole Ghosn, who has not seen her husband since his arrest, issued a plea on Thursday for more information on his condition.
"I am pleading with the Japanese authorities to provide us with any information at all about my husband's health," she said from Paris, where the couple maintains a home. "We are fearful and very worried his recovery will be complicated while he continues to endure such harsh conditions and unfair treatment."
Information for this article was contributed by Hiroko Tabuchi and Motoko Rich of The New York Times; and by Yuri Kageyama of The Associated Press.
Business on 01/12/2019
Print Headline: Ex-Nissan CEO faces new charges as stress rises