Ghosn’s lawyer hints at ‘higher power’

TOKYO • Carlos Ghosn’s new lawyer escalated his public appeal to release the former Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman from prison by hinting at the involvement of a “higher power” in the case and questioning why only Ghosn and an associate have been accused of crimes so far.

Junichiro Hironaka (picture), the lawyer hired by Ghosn last month, also said yesterday his team is bringing new ideas and strategies after Ghosn’s previous legal representatives twice failed to win bail for him. Hironaka filed another request last week as Ghosn’s detention surpassed 100 days. The court hasn’t ruled yet, though Hironaka said such a long detention is “extremely unfair”.

The arrest of one of the world’s most famous automotive executives raised concerns about the future of the largest car alliance — forged by Nissan, Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Ghosn, the glue binding the alliance together since he took command in the 1990s, was the chairman of all three companies, but has been removed from those positions since his Nov 19 arrest.

Nissan conducted a months-long probe into Ghosn’s financial reporting and alleged misuse of company assets about decade ago. The timing prompted some analysts and Ghosn’s family to say the scandal may have been manufactured in order to block a merger that Ghosn was advocating between Nissan and Renault. Japanese executives within Nissan have spoken strongly against a merger.

“There may be some relation of politics and economy to this case,” Hironaka said.

Yet, just like in his initial comments last month shortly after being hired, Hironaka offered few details behind the conspiracy inside Nissan he is alleging. He will investigate the “situation” of the relationship between Nissan and Renault to determine if that played a role in Nissan reporting Ghosn’s alleged financial misconduct to authorities. Ghosn’s aide and for mer Nissan representative director Greg Kelly, who was arrested the same day, remains free on bail.

Prosecutors made some evidence available to defence lawyers last Thursday, and Hironaka said his team is examining it.

“It’s peculiar for Nissan to say that Ghosn and Kelly alone were the masterminds of the cases,” he said. “It’s possible Nissan people inside must have known the incidents much more than the two.”

Ghosn faces as many as 10 years in prison if convicted of several charges. A trial is likely to be still several months away. He denies the charges.

Hironaka, who’s nicknamed “The Razor” because of his aggressive tactics, said he’s expecting a decision on the latest bail request shortly, and he will continue applying if this one is rejected.

It’s possible that prosecutors will indict Ghosn yet again on allegations other than what he is already accused of, Hironaka said. Still, he believes “it wouldn’t be strange” if he got Ghosn acquitted.

“I am now 73 and want to test how sharp my razor is,” Hironaka said, referring to his nickname. — Bloomberg