March 4, 2019 / 6:41 AM / 18 days ago

Ghosn lawyer optimistic on bail prospects, pledges new defense strategy

TOKYO (Reuters) - The lawyer of ousted Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn on Monday said he was optimistic the detained executive could win bail with a promise to submit to surveillance, and that he would pursue a fresh strategy to defend against financial misconduct charges.

Junichiro Hironaka, chief lawyer of the ousted Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman Carlos Ghosn, attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Junichiro Hironaka, known as “the Razor” for his successful defense of high-profile cases, told a briefing that his three-person legal team appointed last month would not be bound by the strategy of Ghosn’s previous lawyers, whose rebuttal of the charges failed to secure the executive’s bail.

Ghosn has been in custody since his initial arrest in late November over allegations he under-reported his compensation at Nissan Motor Co Ltd for nearly a decade through 2018. He also has been charged with aggravated breach of trust.

The ex-chairman of Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors Corp and France’s Renault SA has denied wrongdoing.

“I believe it’s possible he could be released in the near future,” Hironaka said in a more optimistic outlook than former lead lawyer and one-time chief prosecutor Motonari Otsuru, who had suggested Ghosn could remain in custody in Japan for months.

“We haven’t known each other for long but I hope to build up a relationship of trust,” said Hironaka, who acknowledged a language barrier with his client but added that he had read books authored by Ghosn to get to know his client better.

Ghosn and his legal team are currently waiting for the Tokyo court to decide whether to grant his third request for bail submitted late last week.

This time, Ghosn has said he is willing to submit to severe restrictions including video surveillance and communications monitoring to secure freedom before his trial, Hironaka said. His previous offer to hire security guards and wear an ankle monitoring bracelet failed to convince judges who cited a risk of evidence tampering when they rejected two previous bail applications.

Meanwhile, the defense team has begun holding pre-trial discovery meetings with prosecutors and judges to review evidence and submit lists of witnesses to be presented at trial, Hironaka said, a process which could take several months.

RAZOR SHARP

The appointment of Hironaka, nicknamed for his combative style, is widely seen as move to adopt a more aggressive legal strategy.

“I am now 73 years old, but I want to test how sharp my razor still is,” Hironaka told reporters, without revealing details of the legal strategy he and is colleagues will pursue.

Since taking over Ghosn’s defense team, Hironaka has argued the allegations should have been resolved as an internal company matter without the involvement of prosecutors, and blasted the judicial system for keeping his client in jail.

The former Nissan boss faces a criminal justice system where only three of every hundred defendants pleading not guilty are acquitted. In Japan, there is no plea deal mechanism that would allow Ghosn to agree to lesser charges for a lighter sentence.

The executive, credited with reviving Nissan in the early 2000s, was one of the auto industry’s most powerful figures as head of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, whose combined vehicle sales rank it as one of the world’s biggest automakers.

Ghosn had been seeking a full merger, an idea many Nissan executives opposed. However, his arrest has since muddied the outlook for the alliance, which is based on a web of cross-shareholding and operational integration.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Tim Kelly; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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