Ex-Nissan Boss Shakes Up Legal Team After Lead Counsel Resigns

Former Nissan Motors Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn (file copy)        Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP

 

Two lawyers defending former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn on charges of financial misconduct quit suddenly on Wednesday, the latest shock twist in a case that has gripped Japan and the business world.

There was no immediate explanation as to why the attorneys, who include lead lawyer Motonari Otsuru, were leaving 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 surprise decision came on the eve of an expected first meeting between the Tokyo District Court, prosecutors, and defence lawyers to discuss the outlines of Ghosn’s trial.

Hot-shot lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, 73, confirmed that he had been asked to join the legal team.

READ ALSO: Ghosn Received £8m In ‘Improper’ Payments – Nissan

Hironaka is a veteran and celebrated defence lawyer, known for taking on tough and high-profile cases and securing not-guilty verdicts in a country where prosecutors win nearly 99 per cent of cases that come to trial.

Among his achievements, Hironaka was involved in the successful defence in 2012 of influential politician Ichiro Ozawa, a shrewd election strategist accused of playing a role in misreporting political funds.

Speaking outside his office, he told reporters: “I met with Mr. Ghosn and I met with his family and they said they want me to take the case. So I accepted.”

Ghosn has been in detention since November 19 and faces charges including under-reporting his compensation and attempting to shift personal investment 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 January 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 custody.

Otsuru 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 so 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’ 

Ghosn, who has lost his leadership roles at Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Renault, denies the allegations against him and slammed his ongoing detention in an interview with AFP and French newspaper Les Echos earlier this month.

The Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese executive 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 ($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”.

AFP

Canadian PM Trudeau’s Government In Crisis After Minister Resigns

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening statement for the 10th Lima Group in Ottawa, Ontario, on February 4, 2019. Lars Hagberg / AFP

 

A Canadian minister’s sudden resignation on Tuesday turned vague allegations of interference in the criminal prosecution of an engineering giant into a deepening political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation followed a chorus of demands for the government to come clean about whether Trudeau’s office had pressured her to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

The Montreal-based firm was charged in 2015 with corruption for allegedly bribing officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts during former strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s reign.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first indigenous attorney general and justice minister prior to being shuffled to another post last month, announced on Twitter that “with a heavy heart” she was leaving the cabinet.

Trudeau said he was “surprised and disappointed.”

READ ALSO: Canada Ambassador Walks Back Comments On Huawai Executive

“Our government did its job properly and according to all the rules,” he said while upbraiding his former attorney general, if she felt otherwise, for not bringing her concerns to him directly.

SNC-Lavalin lobbied the government, including senior officials in Trudeau’s office, for an out-of-court settlement that would include paying a fine and agreeing to put in place compliance measures.

A possible guilty verdict at trial, they argued, risked crippling its business and putting thousands out of work.

But according to unnamed sources cited by the Globe and Mail, Wilson-Raybould refused to ask prosecutors to settle with the company, and the trial is set to proceed.

Trudeau has denied the allegations, saying: “At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.”

Opposition parties, however, pressed for clarity.

And on Monday the independent ethics commissioner launched an investigation — the second into a prime minister first elected in 2015 on a promise to clean up corruption, and with only eight months before the next ballot.

‘Trying to hide the truth’ 

While the controversy snowballed, Wilson-Raybould declined to speak, citing solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality.

“I am aware that many Canadians wish for me (to) speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week,” she said in a statement.

“I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter,” she said, adding that she retained a retired Supreme Court justice as legal counsel.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer reacted to her resignation by saying Trudeau’s “ethical lapses and his disastrous handling of this latest scandal have thrown his government into chaos.”

He also accused the prime minister of “trying to hide the truth with regards to the SNC-Lavalin affair.”

The Canadian charges against SNC-Lavalin were just the latest blow to one of the world’s largest construction and engineering firms after its former president and senior executives were accused of fraud, and the World Bank banned it from bidding on projects until 2023 due to “misconduct” in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

The company, its international arm and another subsidiary are accused of having offered Can$47 million (US$36 million) in bribes to officials and of defrauding the Libyan government of Can$130 million (US$98 million).

It oversaw billions of dollars in projects in Libya, including construction of a prison outside Tripoli and an airport in Benghazi.

The charges relate to the world’s largest irrigation project — the Great Man-Made River Project — to provide fresh water to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte.

The firm employs 50,000 people worldwide, and if found guilty in Canada it would be prohibited from bidding on Canadian government projects — its lifeblood.

It has argued that those responsible for alleged wrongdoing left the company long ago and that holding it accountable for their criminal actions would severely hurt its business.

AFP