Economy

Ghosn protests innocence in first Japan court appearance

Ghosn protests innocence in first Japan court appearance

The hearing is "a dialogue between the lawyer and the judge, and the prosecutor is not required to be present", said Yasuyuki Takai, a former investigator at the unit that arrested Ghosn.

It is considered extremely unlikely the hearing would result in a change to Ghosn's detention but the case has repeatedly shown the ability to surprise, from the moment prosecutors stormed the tycoon's private jet at a Tokyo airport on November 19, with the twists and turns gripping Japan and the business world.

The 64-year-old has been formally charged with under-reporting his income by about 5 billion yen (£34m) over five years from 2010 to 2015. The "charismatic business manager" was clad in a white shirt, creased black suit and no tie, and walked in blue slippers.

Ghosn's Japanese lawyers have also scheduled a press conference for Tuesday afternoon, where they are expected to speak in his defence for the first time since the arrest.

A crowd of journalists and television crew gathered outside the court building in the Japanese capital for Ghosn's appearance which was requested by his lawyers to explain the reasons for the auto industry heavyweight's prolonged detention.

According to a statement released before the hearing to some media, including The Associated Press, by people familiar with the case, Ghosn said he had "acted honourably, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company with the sole objective of supporting and strengthening Nissan".

"Your honour, I am innocent of the accusations against me", he said. A statement of the remarks he made in court was provided to Bloomberg News.

The architect behind Nissan's alliance with France's Renault SA, Ghosn was initially held without charge.

Otsuru said, "We chose to ask the court to thoroughly study again whether there are any suspicions to justify Ghosn being detained".

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The investment contract Ghosn's personal asset management firm had with a Tokyo bank incurred an appraisal loss of 1.85 billion yen due to the financial crisis and the contract was transferred to Nissan after the bank sought additional collateral due to the swelling loss, according to the prosecutors.

In a career spanning decades, during which he won praise for turning around the struggling Japanese auto maker, he said he had "always acted with integrity" and had never before been accused of any wrongdoing.

In an indication of the interest the case has sparked in Japan, more than 1,000 people waited outside the court from the early hours in the hope of getting one of just 14 tickets for the public gallery.

His appearance in court lends a new dimension to a legal battle that has been largely one-sided. He was re-arrested on fresh charges on December 21, just when it looked like he may be able to apply for bail.

Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive and board member, was also arrested and charged with collaborating with Ghosn on the underreported income.

In the statement, Ghosn said the investment losses he was being accused of stemmed from his having to be paid in yen and he had asked Nissan to temporarily take on the collateral for foreign exchange contracts, and the company suffered no losses. He even named some of the people who reached out to him - Bill Ford at Ford Motor, and Steve Rattner, the Obama administration's vehicle czar at the time, who tapped Ghosn for a position at General Motors Co.

Otsuru criticized the prosecutors, saying it was "extraordinary" that they moved to arrest Ghosn for the alleged aggravated breach of trust without hearing the actual situation directly from the key figure in advance. "Even though their proposals were very attractive, I could not in good conscience abandon Nissan while we were in the midst of our turnaround", he said in Tuesday's statement.

In Japan, indictment paves the way for prosecutors to lay formal charges. Prosecutors have said that Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, is a flight risk. Nissan has also accused Mr Ghosn of misusing company funds, including over homes from Brazil to Lebanon and hiring his sister on an advisory contract.