Former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn leaves his lawyer's office in Tokyo, Japan, April 3 2019. Picture: KYODO/REUTERS
Former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn leaves his lawyer's office in Tokyo, Japan, April 3 2019. Picture: KYODO/REUTERS

Tokyo — Japanese prosecutors indicted Carlos Ghosn on Monday on another charge of aggravated breach of trust, the fourth charge against the former Nissan Motor chair.

His lawyers responded immediately with a bail request. Lead layer Junichiro Hironaka said the court would probably rule on this on Tuesday. 

The charge came on the day Ghosn’s latest detention period was set to expire. Ghosn had been out on bail when authorities arrested him a fourth time on April 4 on suspicion he enriched himself at a cost of $5m to the carmaker.

“We are confident that we have the evidence to successfully prosecute all four cases,” an official from the prosecutor’s office said at a briefing after the indictment was announced.

Ghosn has denied all four charges, which include understating his income, saying he is the victim of a boardroom coup. He has accused former colleagues of “backstabbing”, describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing a closer alliance between Nissan and its top shareholder, France’s Renault.

“Carlos Ghosn is innocent of the latest charges brought against him by the Tokyo prosecutors, aided and abetted by certain Nissan conspirators,” said a Ghosn representative.

The legal saga has exposed tension in the Nissan-Renault alliance forged by Ghosn some two decades ago when the French carmaker invested in Nissan, then on the brink of bankruptcy. The deal gave Renault control over its larger partner.

Nissan is due to reject a management integration proposal from Renault and will instead call for an equal capital relationship, the Nikkei newspaper said on Monday, citing sources.

Ghosn’s arrest has also focused a harsh light on Japan’s judicial system, which critics refer to as “hostage justice” as defendants who deny their charges are often not granted bail.

Under Japanese law, prosecutors can hold suspects for up to 22 days without charge and interrogate them without their lawyers present. In accordance with these terms, prosecutors had to indict or release Ghosn by Monday.

According to the latest indictment, Ghosn caused a total of $5m in losses to Nissan from July 2017 to July 2018.

Prosecutors allege that in that period two payments of $5m were made from the account of a Nissan subsidiary into the account of an overseas dealership. Altogether $5m was subsequently transferred from the dealership's account to another account in which Ghosn had an interest.

Nissan said it filed a criminal complaint against the former chair in this matter, saying it had determined that Ghosn orddered some of its overseas payments for his personal enrichment.

The payments were “not necessary from a business standpoint”, said Nissan. “Such misconduct is completely unacceptable, and Nissan is requesting appropriately strict penalties.”

Before Ghosn’s latest arrest, he had been out on $9m bail for 30 days. He is now being held in the same Tokyo detention centre where he was detained for 108 days after his initial arrest on the tarmac at a Tokyo airport in November.

Kyodo news agency previously reported, without citing sources, that Nissan funds had been shifted through a car dealer in Oman to the account of a company Ghosn effectively owned.

Sources have previously said that Renault alerted French prosecutors after uncovering payments it deemed suspect to a partner in Oman.

Evidence sent to French prosecutors showed much of the cash was channelled to a Lebanese company controlled by associates of Ghosn, who holds Lebanese citizenship, the sources said. 

Ghosn’s French lawyer denied the allegations.