Lawyers for Carlos Ghosn demanded the dismissal of financial misconduct charges against the former chairman of Nissan, arguing that Japanese prosecutors, government officials and executives at the carmaker “unlawfully colluded” to bring him down.
In a 23-page document submitted to the Tokyo District Court ahead of a pre-trial hearing held on Thursday, Mr Ghosn’s legal team laid out their most detailed defence against the four charges made against him, revealing the names of Nissan executives and a prosecutor turned defence lawyer they believed were critical in building the allegations against him.
Their main argument was consistent with previous claims that Mr Ghosn was a victim of a conspiracy by Nissan executives who were opposed to a plan to merge the Japanese group with its alliance partner Renault.
Their defence also focused primarily on what they alleged were “illegal” ways in which Tokyo prosecutors carried out their investigation with the help of Nissan employees to “unlawfully invade” Mr Ghosn’s places of residence and seize his confidential files.
“The court filings demonstrate that the prosecutors’ case, which was politically motivated and poisoned from the start, is fundamentally flawed and contradicted by evidentiary record,” the lawyers said in a statement. “This case should never have been brought.”
Mr Ghosn, who was arrested last November, has denied charges that he understated his pay in financial documents and used Nissan funds for his personal benefit. In the court filing, Mr Ghosn’s lawyers refuted each charge made against him.
At a press conference, Junichiro Hironaka, Mr Ghosn’s lawyer, alleged that the case against the former head of the Nissan-Renault alliance was “cooked up” to block merger talks between the Japanese and French carmakers that were held in the months ahead of his arrest in November.
Mr Hironaka said his team had evidence to support their claims that Nissan executives worked with officials from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to prosecute Mr Ghosn, but declined to elaborate.
“This was done as part of a broader [government-backed] policy to prevent Nissan from being handed over to France,” Mr Hironaka told reporters.
Economy ministry officials have previously said the Japanese government had never intervened in Nissan-Renault discussions or been asked by Nissan to provide support.
Nissan declined to comment on judicial proceedings. The company recently concluded a 10-month investigation in which it said it found Mr Ghosn had concealed his pay and made personal use of the company’s assets. Following its internal probe, Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan chief executive, also stepped down after he admitted to being improperly overpaid.
The public prosecutors’ office declined to comment.
The pre-trial hearings are part of a court procedure to narrow the scope of the charges ahead of the trial, which is expected to start as soon as April. But Mr Hironaka said prosecutors have denied his team access to about 6,000 pieces of evidence that could be favourable for Mr Ghosn’s case.
On the two charges that Mr Ghosn did not report more than $80m in deferred compensation that he was set to receive over eight years, his lawyers said Nissan never committed to pay the money, and that the former chairman never received any unreported compensation.
Mr Ghosn also denied a charge of breach of trust, saying payments that were made to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, a distributor in Oman with ties to a friend of Mr Ghosn’s, were “legitimate sales and marketing bonus and incentive payments” that were fully vetted and approved by several senior Nissan executives.
Regarding another breach of trust charge looking at money transferred to Khaled al-Juffali, a prominent Saudi businessman, Mr Ghosn’s lawyers repeated previous claims that payments to Mr Juffali’s company were made for “legitimate and vitally important business services” for Nissan.