The newly appointed lawyer for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has said he believes the case against his client does “not meet international standards” and could scare international businesses away from Japan.
Junichiro Hironaka, who was appointed as part of Ghosn’s defense team last week, also said he believes his trial might not get under way until after the summer.
That could mean months more of detention for the Brazilian-born French car industry veteran, who has twice sought and failed to gain release on bail after his November 19 arrest.
Mr Hironaka said his gut feeling is that Ghosn, the former head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance, is innocent of all charges against him.
In court and in interviews, Ghosn has insisted he is innocent and said he wants to fight the case in court.
The lawyer questioned why Nissan chose to seek Ghosn’s arrest.
“I also found it bizarre why this became a case to start with. It feels more like an internal matter for Nissan … but somehow it was taken to the prosecutors,” he said.
Nissan, based in Yokohama near Tokyo, issued a statement saying it was “not in a position to comment on judicial matters and criminal charges, which must be resolved between the prosecutors, the courts, and the defendant(s). Put simply, we are not in a position to comment directly or specifically on Ghosn’s legal defense”.
The statement reiterated Nissan’s earlier comments on such issues.
Mr Hironaka said that if prosecutors have a strong case against Ghosn, they could release him pending his trial instead of keeping him on the grounds he might tamper with evidence.
“These issues cannot meet international standards,” he said.
“I think this case could present an opportunity to review and reform problems” in the legal system, he added.
Mr Hironaka refused to say if Ghosn will try for a third time to gain release on bail, noting the defence team was still working out its strategy.
Ghosn hired Mr Hironaka and another new lawyer, Hiroshi Kawatsu, last week, beefing up his legal team ahead of his trial.
Mr Hironaka has a strong track record for winning rare acquittals in a country where the conviction rate is 99%.
Kawatsu is an expert on judicial reform who has studied and done research in the US.
Ghosn and another Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, were arrested just after landing at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport.
Kelly was granted bail pending his trial on charges he allegedly helped Ghosn under-report millions of dollars of income.
The arrests “out of the blue” could frighten others doing business in Japan, Mr Hironaka said.
“Like, if they come to Japan, they could face such a terrible situation, like suddenly they could be taken into the prosecutors’ custody,” he said.