TOKYO – As embattled former Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn awaits a ruling on his third bail request, his defense team is spinning a conspiracy plot that touches on broken governance at Nissan, national economic policy concerns and tensions with partner Renault.
In addition, Ghosn's lawyers have submitted a dossier to the United Nations' human rights office in Geneva that they say shows Ghosn's rights had been violated during detention in Japan.
Ghosn’s children, meanwhile, are touting their father’s love of Japan in bid to counter fresh criticism by Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa. In an interview published late last week in Japan’s Shukan Bunshun magazine, Saikawa slammed Ghosn for not respecting Nissan, Japan or its people.
“I wonder if Mr. Ghosn has ever had any love or sense of attachment to Nissan as a company. I wonder if Nissan was merely a tool for him and his family to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle,” Saikawa said. “I seriously question if Mr. Ghosn has had any respect for Japanese people and Japanese society at all. If he had respect for Japan, he couldn’t have committed such misconduct.”
Saikawa’s latest remarks rankled Ghosn’s children, all of whom grew up in Japan.
“It is extremely disappointing that a long-trusted co-worker of my father’s would slander him by claiming falsely that my father does not love and respect Japan,” they wrote in a statement signed by all four, Caroline, Nadine, Maya and Anthony Ghosn.
“Anyone who knows my father knows that is not true,” they said, noting that the former Nissan chairman was awarded the Blue Ribbon Medal by Emperor Akihito for his contributions to the country, making Ghosn the first non-Japanese businessman to receive the accolade.
Now, Ghosn faces three indictments on allegations of financial misconduct at Nissan and is entering a fourth month in a Tokyo jail following his Nov. 19 arrest. Ghosn denies the charges, but the Tokyo District Court has refused two previous bail requests citing concerns about flight risk and evidence tampering. If found guilty, Ghosn faces up to 10 years in prison.
In a news conference on Monday, Ghosn’s lawyers outlined several oddities about the case they say just do not add up: the timeline, the allegations and the actors.
The conduct in question dates to a decade ago, it involves disputes that normally would be handled internally, and it concerns issues that other officials in the company would seemingly know about, said lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, nicknamed “The Razor” for his cutting questions.
“This case is quite peculiar,” Hironaka said. “There are things Nissan was aware of more than 10 years ago. For what reason is this case now being put to prosecutors at this late stage as a criminal act? Using common sense, they do not seem to be acts subject to criminal prosecution.”
Hironaka said larger forces were likely at play, including the Japanese government’s concern about the security of the nation’s auto industry and tensions between Nissan and Renault over the future direction of the automakers’ 20-year alliance.
“There is a link in regard to both the economy and politics that we should be paying attention to here,” Hironaka said. “The company situation of Renault and Nissan has an impact on what has led to this situation. But this is something we will be looking into further from here.”
In his interview with Shukan Bunshun, Saikawa acknowledged there was mounting resistance inside Nissan to Ghosn’s overtures about merging the management of the two companies.
Ghosn began raising the idea in February 2018, Saikawa said. Even though Saikawa repeatedly objected to the proposal, Ghosn and Nissan director Greg Kelly continued to push for it.
But Saikawa said his own resistance to any management integration between Renault and Nissan had nothing to do with the charges of financial malfeasance leveled against Ghosn.
That investigation, he said, had begun separately in early 2018, without Saikawa’s knowledge. Saikawa said he learned about the allegations only in October, a month before Ghosn’s arrest.
“The arrest and clash of opinions over management integration are two separate things,” he said. “When I was first notified of this fraud, the internal investigation was already underway. Most of his misconduct is serious enough to warrant immediate dismissal for an ordinary executive. The arrest is entirely a different dimension from talk of management integration.”
Nissan spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office began its own investigation into possible wrongdoings in during Nissan’s own internal probe.
“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly,” he said. “Aside from any criminal investigation, Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct, resulting in a unanimous board vote to discharge Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director.”
Nissan says it has uncovered further misconduct by Ghosn since November. It maintains that its current focus is on improving corporate governance to prevent repeated misconduct.
Reuters contributed to this report.