A vehicle presumably carrying former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves Tokyo Detention Center in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Ghosn is getting his day in court to demand the reason for his prolonged detention by Tokyo authorities. The hearing Tuesday would be his first public appearance since his arrest on Nov. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Nissan's Ghosn appears in court to question his detention

January 07, 2019 - 9:24 pm

TOKYO (AP) — The former chairman of Japan's Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, was getting his day in court Tuesday to demand the reason for his prolonged detention — his first public appearance since his November arrest.

Prosecutors in Tokyo charged Ghosn with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his income. Ghosn, revered in the global auto industry for saving the Japanese automaker from near bankruptcy, was to get his first chance to directly tell his side of the story at the courtroom hearing.

Ghosn, appearing in a dark suit without a tie and wearing plastic slippers, looked thinner than he had before his arrest. His hair was greying at the roots. He was handcuffed with a rope around his waist. Two guards who led him in uncuffed him and sat with him on a bench.

Presiding judge Yuichi Tada read out the charges and said Ghosn was being detained because he was considered a flight risk and there was the risk he may hide evidence.

Reports have cited family members as saying Ghosn maintains his innocence, asserting the money, promised as income for later, was never decided on or paid. A person familiar with the case confirmed that with The Associated Press, requesting anonymity in order to discuss confidential matters.

In Japan, suspects are routinely held without bail, often due to fears about tampered evidence. Prosecutors have said that Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, is a flight risk.

Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has publicly denounced Ghosn, accusing him of using company money and assets for personal gain, as well as underreporting compensation.

Ghosn was sent in by Renault SA of France in 1999 and led a spectacular turnaround at Nissan Motor Co. for two decades, during which he mostly served as chief executive.

Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, while Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault. The alliance, which in recent years has added smaller Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp., has risen to be one of the most successful in the industry, rivaling Volkswagen AG of Germany and Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.

Ghosn remains the head of Renault.

Ghosn's courtroom appearance has drawn worldwide attention, with throngs of cameras set up outside the Tokyo Detention Center on Tuesday to capture his departure. The Tokyo District Court said 1,122 people lined up to draw lots for the 14 courtroom seats allotted to the public. No cameras or audio recordings are allowed to document Japanese court sessions.

Ghosn's detention has also drawn attention to what critics deem "hostage justice" in Japan, where suspects are interrogated without a lawyer present. Some people have signed confessions to crimes they never committed to try to get out of the ordeal.

Ghosn's downfall was sudden, coming in a surprise arrest as his private jet landed in Tokyo on Nov. 19.

Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive and board member, was also arrested and charged with collaborating with Ghosn on the underreported income. Kelly, who was released on bail on Dec. 25, has said that he is innocent.

Tokyo prosecutors have repeatedly prolonged Ghosn's detention, adding on new allegations, with the latest being suspicion of breach of trust stemming from allegations that he had Nissan temporarily shoulder his personal investment losses.

Formal charges on those allegations have not been filed. No trial dates have been set for Ghosn or Kelly.

Ghosn's detention now runs through Jan. 11.

Ghosn has been charged with falsifying financial reports in under-reporting his pay by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) over five years through 2015.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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