It's unclear how long Ghosn may be detained under the latest arrest. "My arrest this morning is outrageous and arbitrary," Ghosn said in a statement issued Thursday. "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. I am innocent of the groundless charges and accusations against me."
Prosecutors defended the move, saying the latest allegations are a new case requiring precautions to prevent Ghosn from destroying evidence. They allege $5 million in funds sent by a Nissan subsidiary to an overseas dealership were diverted to a company controlled by Ghosn.
"We now have a totally different case, and we are only doing what we think is right," Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office, told reporters. "As a result of our investigation, we have a new case in which he must be detained, and we have appropriately obtained an arrest warrant from the court," he said.
Ghosn, 65, was first arrested on Nov. 19 on charges of under-reporting his compensation. He was rearrested twice in December. The multiple arrests prolong detentions without trial and are an oft-criticized prosecution tactic in Japan's criminal justice system.
The allegations in the most recent arrest cover three money transfers from 2015 through last year, according to the prosecutors. Kukimoto said the new allegation of breach of trust is different from an earlier charge made in January. The companies where the money was transferred to, the motives, and the alleged scheme are all different, he said. He refused to identify the three companies allegedly involved but said one company was in effect owned by Ghosn.
Unlike an earlier case, in which Ghosn caused damage to Nissan to benefit himself and a business partner, this time it was merely "for his own personal benefit," Kukimoto said. French prosecutors also are investigating Ghosn's financial activities at Nissan's French alliance partner Renault SA, where he was chairman and CEO until his arrest. Ghosn is one of France's most famous executives, and each development in his legal saga is closely watched by the French government, a key Renault shareholder.
A statement from the Japanese prosecutors' did not mention Oman, but the new allegation appears related to an investigation by Renault into payments to a major dealership in the Middle Eastern country, some of which are suspected of having been channeled for Ghosn's personal use.
Renault said Wednesday that it had turned over information about those payments to French prosecutors. Ghosn predicted a new arrest in a French television interview conducted hours before the prosecutors appeared at his apartment. He told broadcaster TF1 that he had never been "above the law," but acknowledged that he "pushed things to the limit" to improve Nissan and Renault. The interview was filmed Wednesday but aired Thursday.
Prosecutors also seized the passport of his wife Carole along with her computer and cellphone, including sensitive exchanges with attorneys, the family's French lawyer told The Associated Press in Paris. Japanese prosecutors would not comment when asked why the wife was targeted.
Ghosn was an auto industry star, having transformed Nissan over two decades from near bankruptcy into one of the largest automaking alliances in the world. Nissan, a co-defendant on the charges of under-reporting compensation, declined comment on the criminal proceedings.
However, company spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said in a statement that "Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct." The maker of the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models will hold a shareholders' meeting next week to oust Ghosn from its board.
The maximum penalty upon conviction on charges of under-reporting compensation and breach of trust is 15 years in prison. It is unclear when Ghosn's trial may begin. Preparations for trials in Japan routinely take months.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
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