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France

Eye on France: Carlos Ghosn to stay behind bars

media A Tokyo, la télévision diffuse un programme sur Carlos Ghosn, le 20 décembre 2018. BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

Carlos Ghosn, the imprisoned former boss of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi motor empire, is back on the French front pages. It looks as if he won't be getting out of jail any day soon.

Yesterday, Ghosn was basically giving a Japanese judge a piece of his mind on the accusations which have kept the French-Brazillian-Lebanese businessman behind bars since 19 November, suspected of various forms of financial misdoing.

All the headline say basically the same thing: “Renault boss tells judge he’s innocent”.

Notably skinnier than when he was arrested, Ghosn appeared yesterday at his own request, with a view to hearing from the judge why he has been kept in jail for so long, without any charge.

Why am I in jail?

The Japanese justice system allows for this sort of court session, where the suspect demands to be told just why he’s being held for questioning. The right to such a hearing is practically never invoked.

Ghosn told the judge yesterday that he had spent twenty years of his life forging the alliance between Renault and Nissan, a company which he brought back from the brink of collapse and which he claims to love. He said he was innocent and had always acted with integrity, never having faced any accusation of misbehaviour in a business career spanning several decades.

The judge listened patiently but was not impressed.

He decided that the continued imprisonment of Carlos Ghosn was justified because there was a risk that the suspect might flee while on bail, or destroy crucial evidence.

Bizarrely, bail is normally granted under Japanese criminal law only when the accused admits his guilt. Then he’s let out to await trial, knowing that the vast majority of cases which come before Japanese courts result in a guilty verdict. If the cases against the Frenchman eventually come to trial, Charlos Ghosn’s lawyer reckons it could take another six months to organise.

Nissan keep up the pressure

Nissan yesterday repeated earlier claims that the company’s internal investigation had turned up “substantial and convincing proof” of Ghosn’s guilt.

Of course, there are suspicions that this case was leaked to the Japanese police by Nissan managers who were opposed to Ghosn’s plans to strengthen the ties between Renault and the Japanese company.

If that is ever proved, it may come to be seen as a classic case of shooting yourself in the foot, since the company is now itself facing investigation for its part in publishing the accounts in which the boss’s salary was under-declared.

The story so far...

The Renault boss is currently being investigated on three separate counts: there are two sets of suspicions that he allowed Nissan’s annual accounts as presented to the Tokyo Stock Exchange to underestimate his annual income. The alleged “error” there comes to something like 70 million euros.

And then there’s the suspicious use of Nissan funds to cover Ghosn’s personal investment losses following the 2008 global crash. That’s reckoned at 15 million euros. In each case, Ghosn claims to have acted with the full approval of Nissan company directors. And he says the stock guarantee deal was a temporary thing, which didn’t cost Nissan a rin, which is one thousandth part of a yen, in case you were wondering.

Le Monde says there’s been a clear decision by the company director’s family to launch a media offensive, with his daughters recently giving an interview to the New York Times, and his son speaking to the French tabloid Journal du dimanche last weekend.

Le Monde also says the Japanese prosecutor doesn’t appear to like the heat: Ghosn was subject to a questioning session by the prosecutor on New Year’s, a day when the police traditionally give their victims, and themselves, a break.

A clash of legal systems

Left-leaning Libération says the story throws a harsh light on the Japanese justice system. Suspects can be kept in jail for weeks, months even, without charge. The prosecutors work to force their victims to admit their guilt. Practically no one who is arrested on suspicion emerges from the system without ultimately being found guilty. The left-wing paper says such a legal set-up is hardly a symptom of a healthy society.

The French businessman could finally be charged later this week, on Friday, when his current incarceration for investigation comes to an end.

Unless the prosecutor decides to present new charges, which could see Carlos Ghosn kept behind bars for a further 22 days of questioning.

In the meantime, Carlos Ghosn will have to make do with the standard prison fare of three bowls of rice per day. No wonder he’s looking skinnier than at the time of his arrest!

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