The drama surrounding fallen auto executive Carlos Ghosn has erupted again, with Japanese officials arresting him on fresh allegations that he used Nissan Motor Co. funds for his own purposes.
Authorities detained Ghosn early Thursday on suspicion of aggravated breach of trust, using company money funneled through an intermediary for personal purposes, prosecutors said in a statement. They’re the most serious charges against Ghosn to date. Prosecutors showed up at Ghosn’s Tokyo apartment shortly before 6 a.m., and a car with covered windows left about an hour later.
“My arrest this morning is outrageous and arbitrary,” Ghosn said in a statement. “It is part of another attempt by some individuals at Nissan to silence me by misleading the prosecutors. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken.”
The former chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. had been free on bail for less than a month. Renault and Nissan uncovered payments made under Ghosn that allegedly went toward corporate jets, a yacht and his son’s start-up, leading the French automaker to alert authorities about potential wrongdoing, people familiar with the matter have said.
Ghosn was arrested because of the risk of flight and destruction of evidence, Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, said at a briefing.
On Wednesday, Renault said Ghosn had made questionable payments to a distributor in the Middle East and an outside lawyer. Some expenses “involve questionable and concealed practices and violations of the group’s ethical principles,” the French carmaker said.
Another lengthy stay in prison could make it harder for Ghosn to prepare for his trial on charges of financial misconduct, and refocus international attention on Japan’s criminal justice system.
Ghosn, who was arrested Nov. 19 and jailed for more than 100 days, has denied accusations of transferring personal trading losses to the automaker and underreporting his income. He was arrested just as he was preparing to tell his side of the story. The former auto executive had tweeted Wednesday that he planned to hold a news conference April 11 to “tell the truth” about accusations against him.
“The way the prosecutors took him to question and rearrest was a bit rough,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co. “The rearrest seems like they wanted to block the news conference.”
Middle East payments
Investigations revealed transactions that amounted to millions of euros to companies in Oman and Lebanon that may have then been used for the personal benefit of Ghosn and his family, said the people with knowledge, who asked not to be identified because the details weren’t public. Japanese prosecutors accused Ghosn of taking $15 million in three incidents beginning in 2015.
Investigations into the dealings started after Ghosn’s arrest in November in Tokyo.
The payments in Oman were to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, which is Nissan’s exclusive distributor in the sultanate, people with knowledge of the matter have said. The automaker first flagged the payments to Renault along with discounts on vehicles to Oman dealerships that the Japanese company suspected as being inflated, according to one of the people.
Other expenses of several million euros by RNBV, the Amsterdam company overseeing a partnership with Nissan, also raise concerns, Renault said. The latest findings may lead to legal action in France, after earlier transactions were brought to authorities, the company added.
A spokeswoman in Paris for the Ghosn family denied any wrongdoing by Ghosn and said reports of Oman payments, use of the airplanes and the start-up are part of a smear campaign to make the former executive look greedy.
The November arrest of the car titan destabilized a three-way alliance among Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi. Last month, the automakers announced a new governance structure designed for smoother and more equitable decision-making. Another rearrest is unlikely to affect the manufacturers, but it could put Nissan and Renault under closer scrutiny because of their involvement in the payments.
Nissan declined to comment on the arrest, issuing its usual response regarding Ghosn. “Nissan’s internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct,” Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for the Yokohama automaker, said in an emailed statement. “Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge.”
Junichiro Hironaka, Ghosn’s lawyer, told reporters that the Thursday rearrest was “extremely inappropriate.” He said he hasn’t discussed the reported Oman payments with his client.
Under the Japanese legal process, prosecutors have 48 hours to detain suspects, after which they can make a 10-day detention request. That can be extended another 10 days by filing a second request to the court. Those procedures, along with additional arrests, can keep suspects in detention for months.
“I am determined that the truth will come out,” Ghosn said in his statement. “I am confident that if tried fairly, I will be vindicated.”