In court, Carlos Ghosn denies en bloc but Nissan drives the nail

[Article publié le mardi 8.01.2018 à 9:49, mis à jour avec soutien d'E. Borne à 10:47]

From the first hours of the morning a long queue had formed before the tribunal. More than a thousand people, including many foreign journalists, waited in the cold to try to win one of the few places in the room: only 14 tickets were allocated by lottery to members of the public, to attend at the appearance of the famous accused.

Carlos Ghosn, who is still CEO of Renault and the Renault-Nissan alliance, was auditioned this Tuesday morning at 10:30 local time (1:30 GMT, or 2:30, Paris time) at its request by the District Court of Tokyo to obtain clarification the reasons for his detention and allow him to express himself publicly on the accusations of financial malpractices at Nissan brought against him.

The appearance procedure of this type is rare, only 0.6% of inmates made such a request last year. It has almost no chance to change the course of things but the symbolic significance is strong for Mr. Ghosn, who was able to break the media silence in which he is walled for several weeks.

Read also: Ghosn obliges the court to publicly explain its motives next Tuesday

During this first public appearance since his imprisonment on November 19, Carlos Ghosn denied any wrongdoing and declared having acted in accordance with the laws and with the approval of the competent executives of the Japanese automobile group.

"I was unfairly accused and detained on baseless charges," he said at the hearing, according to a pre-arranged speech that Reuters was able to consult.

Wearing a dark suit, no tie, green plastic sandals at the foot, the 64-year-old car magnate appeared significantly emaciated, hollow cheeks, handcuffed, with a rope around the waist held by a policeman, before the beginning of the session which lasted almost two hours, from 10:30 local time to 12:15 (4:15, Paris time). However, Carlos Ghosn only had 10 minutes of speaking time in all.

"Even if it's only ten minutes, for him it's very important to be able to tell the world its truth," said Flavien Neuvy, director of the Cetelem Observatory for the Paris-based automobile industry.

Carlos Ghosn denies all charges against him en bloc

Speaking in English - which has further reduced his speaking time because of the translation - the Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian leader recalled having dedicated "two decades of his life to take up Nissan and build the alliance", a company he says he likes. He claims "to have acted with honor, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the company's management," according to a written statement he read.

He assured that he had not had any personal losses covered at Nissan and detailed the transactions for which he is accused of breach of trust, ensuring that the sums paid by a Nissan subsidiary to a Saudi businessman have been paid for the services rendered to assist the group in the Gulf region.

No photos or video footage of Renault's CEO were made during his appearance, only audience sketches were made public.

Judge confirms continued detention against risk of absconding abroad

The judge justified his continued detention by a risk of flight abroad "where he has bases" and alteration of evidence.

"There is enough evidence to believe that the suspect could incite people to conceal offenses," said magistrate Yuichi Tada.

For the record, Carlos Ghosn was indicted on December 10 for concealment to the stock market authorities of a portion of his income earned at Nissan: about 5 billion yen (38 million euros) over five years, from 2010 to 2015. At the end of this first custody, he was the subject of a new arrest warrant for a similar reduction of emoluments, but this time between 2015 and 2018, then a third, for abuse of trust. And on December 31, his custody was extended until January 11th.

Nissan says it has evidence of misconduct by Carlos Ghosn

Following the hearing of his former boss, Nissan broke the nail, declaring Tuesday that an internal investigation had uncovered substantial and convincing evidence of misconduct by his former president Carlos Ghosn.

For the record, the financial malpractice attributed to Carlos Ghosn were revealed by a whistleblower, prompting Nissan to open an internal investigation and report it to the courts. Hiroto Saikawa, CEO of Nissan, said last November, after the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, that the group had discovered that Ghosn had used corporate money for personal purposes and had minimized his remuneration for several years.

Since the arrest of Carlos GhosnHiroto Saikawa has called for changes to dampen the influence of majority shareholder Renault in the alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Faced with this avalanche of accusations, Renault has for the moment low profile, choosing to maintain confidence in Carlos Ghosn.

Pénicaud and Borne support Carlos Ghosn

However, the French Minister of Labor, Muriel Pénicaud, brought publicly this Tuesday morning on CNews, a way of supporting the CEO of Renault, by launching an appeal to the Japanese justice to ask him to respect the presumption of innocence in the Carlos case Ghosn.

"The presumption of innocence must be respected," she said on CNEWS. "The most important thing today is that this presumption of innocence be respected and that we look after the Renault-Nissan alliance.There are many jobs at the key, there are many economic subjects and social. "

She added:

"It does not have the easiest procedure, that's for sure," commented Muriel Pénicaud, who insisted that, for Paris, he was still CEO of Renault.

A little later, on France Info, his Transport colleague, Elisabeth Borne, also invoked the respect of the presumption of innocence, especially to justify the formal retention of Carlos Ghosn at the head of the French car manufacturer.

"There is a transitional governance that has been put in place, and of course, if this impediment were to last, we would have to draw the consequences," she told franceinfo. "But today there is a principle of presumption of innocence that must be respected (...) The government (...) has no evidence that could lead us to conclude to the guilt of Mr. Ghosn. "

(With Reuters and AFP)