Ghosn replaces legal team in Tokyo, just 3 months into case

TOKYO • Carlos Ghosn (picture) replaced his legal team in Tokyo in a bid to bolster his defence against the financial-misconduct allegations that have shocked the global car industry and kept the former Nissan Motor Co chairman in jail for almost three months.

Ghosn selected Junichiro Hironaka as his new lawyer, the Sankei reported, citing unidentified people. The previous lawyers, including Motonari Otsuru, have notified the court that they will no longer represent him as legal counsel, according to an emailed statement yesterday.

The fallen executive is continuing to mount his defense from behind bars after his law- yers failed to win bail despite several attempts since his shock arrest on Nov 19.

The scandal has already cost Ghosn his leadership positions at Nissan and partner Renault SA, and prosecutors said his alleged financial crimes could carry a jail term of up to 10 years. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

Ghosn, indicted for alleged misconduct including understating his income at Nissan by tens of millions of dollars, has been jailed in Tokyo since his arrest and is awaiting a trial that could be months away. Ghosn’s aide and former Nissan representative director Greg Kelly, who was arrested the same day as the ex-chairman, is out on bail in Tokyo.

Hironaka’s claim to fame includes his successful defense of Atsuko Muraki, a senior female bureaucrat, against corruption charges. He also represented people who were forced to flee their homes in the Fukushima region after the 2011 nuclear disaster, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Hironaka is a graduate of the University of Tokyo.

Unlike Otsuru, he has not worked as a prosecutor, entering private practice upon obtaining his law licence in 1970, according to his law firm’s website. A representative who answered the phone at Hironaka’s law offices could not comment.

Ghosn has been accused of filing false statements to regulators regarding income from Nissan deferred until retirement — a total of about US$80 million (RM325.45 million). He’s also been charged with aggravated breach of trust for acts including temporarily transferring personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008.

The time behind bars has already taken its toll on Ghosn. A citizen of three nations who travelled frequently between the alliance’s offices around

the world, he appeared in public for the first time on Jan 8 looking grey and gaunt, and was led into a court room handcuffed and with a rope tied around his waist.

It’s not uncommon in Japan for suspects to endure lengthy pre-trial detentions. Suspects are often re-arrested on suspicion of new charges periodically to keep them in custody while prosecutors attempt to build a case, and bail is the exception more than the rule.

Legal experts said this is all a strategy to secure a confession and make a trial easier. In Ghosn’s case, the judge at a Jan 8 hearing said his continued detention was due to flight risk and the danger of witness or evidence tampering. — Bloomberg