Carlos Ghosn’s lead defence lawyer resigns

Motonari Otsuru, the chief lawyer for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: Two lawyers defending former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn on charges of financial misconduct submitted their resignations on Wednesday, their law firm said in a statement.

The shock decision was the latest twist in a saga that has gripped Japan and the business world since Ghosn’s arrest in November.

There was no immediate explanation as to why the attorneys, who include lead lawyer Motonari Otsuru, were quitting Ghosn’s defence team.

Contacted by AFP, the firm declined to comment.

A brief statement said only that, “Today, Otsuru and (Masato) Oshikubo submitted letters of resignation to the court as the defence lawyers for the case of Mr Ghosn”.

The former Nissan executive has been in detention since Nov 19 and faces three charges including under-reporting his compensation and attempting to shift losses to his employer’s books.

There had been no public sign of a rift between Ghosn and his lead lawyers, though neither the executive nor the attorney has spoken much publicly since the arrest.

Otsuru gave a single press conference after Ghosn made a brief court appearance on Jan 8 to challenge his ongoing detention.

The owlish defence lawyer cut a cautious figure at the press event, telling journalists that his client was unlikely to make bail before his case came to court, which he said could take six months.

He also pointedly declined to criticise Ghosn’s detention conditions, despite some international concern about the repeated extension of the auto executive’s pre-trial detention.

He said he was meeting Ghosn regularly for several hours at a time, describing his then-client as focused.

“He’s very calm and logical in his current situation,” Otsuru said.

Although he has taken on some of Japan’s most high-publicity cases, Otsuru is known for maintaining a low media profile and little is known about his personal life.

A former prosecutor, the bespectacled 63-year-old with floppy greying hair earned the soubriquet “the breaker” as he was good at extracting confessions from suspects.

In a twist of fate, representing Ghosn’s pitted him against prosecutor Hiroshi Morimoto, a former colleague.

‘Story of betrayal’

It was not immediately clear who would now be representing Ghosn, who has lost his leadership roles at Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Renault.

The Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese executive denies the allegations against him and slammed his ongoing detention in an interview with AFP and French newspaper Les Echos earlier this month.

He said the decision to refuse him bail “would not be normal in any other democracy”.

“Why am I being punished before being found guilty?” Ghosn asked in an interview at the Tokyo detention centre.

Ghosn is accused of under-reporting his income between 2010 and 2015 to the tune of five billion yen (US$46 million) and continuing to do so for a further three years.

He also stands accused of a complex scheme to try to pass off personal foreign exchange losses to Nissan and using company funds to reimburse a Saudi contact who stumped up collateral for him.

He told AFP that the allegations against him and his arrest were “a story of betrayal,” insisting “there is not one yen that I have received that was not reported”.