TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn's new lawyer — nicknamed "The Razor" for his cutting questions — blamed Nissan Motor Co. for his client's legal troubles, saying disputes about compensation and other financial dealings were an internal company matter, not the fodder of criminal charges.
Junichiro Hironaka, speaking at a Tuesday briefing for the first time since taking Ghosn's case last week, said the executive's prosecution had tarnished Japan's global image by shaking the confidence of the international business community and by highlighting Japanese legal practices that are sometimes out of sync with those in other Western democracies.
"This case has sent shock waves through the world, and it is a huge problem for Japan's business development on the whole," Hironaka said. "This case also raises questions about Japan's justice system. This is a good opportunity to bring Japan's system in line with international standards."
Hironaka is part of a new legal team brought on by Ghosn to spearhead a more aggressive defense as the case heads to trial. The former chairman of Nissan, Renault and fellow alliance partner Mitsubishi faces three indictments in Japan, two for allegedly misreporting tens of millions of dollars in deferred compensation and a third concerning alleged breach of trust.
"I'm convinced he's innocent on all three charges," Hironaka said.
Ghosn has been held without bail in a Tokyo detention center since his Nov. 19 arrest.
Ghosn's previous lead attorney, Motonari Otsuru, stepped down last week. Otsuru is a former prosecutor who was originally billed as knowing the secret strategies of Japan's prosecutors. But commentators now say he was never able to ruthlessly counterpunch his former colleagues.
Hironaka, by contrast, is steeped in the defense tradition and has a number of landmark acquittals under his belt. Chief among them is his successful defense of Ichiro Ozawa, the former head of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan, in a campaign finance case.
Hironaka, known for his more forceful approach than the media-shy Otsuru, declined to comment on how he might pursue another bail plea for Ghosn. He also predicted Ghosn's trial would begin sometime after summer. Otsuru failed in repeated attempts to get Ghosn out of the detention center and said last month that trial could be six months away.
If found guilty, Ghosn faces up to 10 years in prison.
In attacking the foundations of the charges against Ghosn, Hironaka said Nissan should have settled disputes over financial matters internally without getting prosecutors involved.
"It seems to me that this is Nissan's internal problem," Hironaka said. "It hasn't caused any specific problems or dangers and hasn't caused any damage to anyone. Nissan is supposed to handle this internally, but somehow the company has brought the cause to prosecutors. In principle, prosecutors should not get involved in civil cases, but they did."
Hironaka also suggested there were wider political pressures weighing on the case.
"I don't think this investigation was decided only by the prosecutors concerned," he said.
"I doubt the Japanese government has little interest in this case. I think the powers that be of Japan must have steered this into the current direction," Hironaka said. "Nissan could have dealt with this case internally through various procedures, but instead they jumped all that and brought the case directly to prosecutors. That is not normal."
Prosecutors, in addition to indicting Ghosn, have also indicted Greg Kelly, an American director at Nissan who is accused of helping Ghosn hide the deferred compensation. Kelly, who was released on bail Dec. 25, is represented by a different attorney. He also maintains his innocence.
Nissan spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office began its own investigation into possible wrongdoing during Nissan's internal probe.
"The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly," he said. "Nissan's investigation uncovered substantial and convincing evidence of misconduct, resulting in a unanimous board vote to dismiss Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director."
Nissan says it has uncovered further misconduct by Ghosn since November. It maintains that its focus is on improving corporate governance to prevent repeated misconduct.