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Ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn faces new charges in Japan

Ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn faces new charges in Japan
Officials direct traffic outside the Tokyo Detention House, where former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is being held, on Jan. 11. (Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP/Getty Images)

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was charged Friday with breach of trust, according to the Tokyo District Court, making the star executive's release unlikely for months.

Ghosn had been arrested Nov. 19 and is already charged with falsifying financial reports in under-reporting his income by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) over five years through 2015. Ghosn's lawyer, Motonari Ohtsuru, said he would request that Ghosn be granted release on bail.

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Ghosn; Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive; and Nissan as a legal entity also were charged Friday with additional under-reporting of income, from 2015 through mid-2018.

Kelly and Nissan were not charged with breach of trust. Those allegations center on Ghosn's handling of investment losses and payments made to a Saudi businessman.

Ghosn, 64, says he's not guilty of the charges.

Suspects in Japan are routinely held for months until trials start, and Tokyo prosecutors maintain that Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, is a flight risk.

Earlier this week, Ghosn, in his first public appearance since his arrest, told a Tokyo court that he was not guilty in the case, and appealed for his detention to end. The court rejected that request.

"I have a genuine love and appreciation for Nissan," Ghosn told the court. "In all of my efforts on behalf of the company, I have acted honorably, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company."

He said that his compensation was never decided on, the investment deal in question never resulted in any losses to Nissan, and the payments to the Saudi businessman were for legitimate services related to dealers and investments in the Persian Gulf region.

The maximum penalty for the falsifying financial reports and breach of trust is 15 years in prison, a 10-million yen ($89,000) fine, or both.

The breach-of-trust charge alleges that 1.8 billion yen ($16.7 million) in damage was caused to Nissan through transactions made by Ghosn, and that $14.7 million was paid to the Saudi businessman.

The other new charge says Ghosn reported 2.9 billion yen ($26.9 million) in compensation, when he earned more than 7.1 billion yen ($65.7 million) in the three years ending in June 2018.

Before his sudden downfall, Ghosn was a respected figure in the global auto industry, having rescued the Japanese automaker from near-bankruptcy and building its sales operations and profits.

Nissan says an internal investigation began in mid-2018 after whistle-blowers came forward. Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has denounced Ghosn, accusing him of using the company's money and assets for personal gain.

Ethics officials at Nissan alliance partner Renault SA of France concluded this week that financial compensation to members of the French automaker's executive committee in 2017 and 2018 was fraud-free. The review was initiated after Ghosn was arrested. Ghosn remains CEO of Renault.

Ghosn, who appeared much thinner than before his arrest, came down with a fever the day after his court appearance but has since recovered, Ohtsuru, the lawyer, said.

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Ghosn’s wife issued a statement overnight out of Paris, expressing concern over his sickness.

"I am pleading with the Japanese authorities to provide us with any information at all about my husband's health. We are fearful and very worried his recovery will be complicated while he continues to endure such harsh conditions and unfair treatment," Carole Ghosn said.

Apart from prosecutors, only embassy officials and Ghosn's lawyers are allowed to visit him. Such visits were canceled Thursday but resumed Friday.

Though declining to comment on specifics, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Shin Kukimoto told reporters that suspects who are indicted usually will be detained for several months.

"We believe that there was enough to charge and go to trial," he said of Ghosn's case, "and he will be guilty."

Ghosn has been interrogated daily but now will only be questioned with his consent, Kukimoto said.

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