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Lawyers call for charges against ex-Nissan chief to be dismissed

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Lawyers for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who is awaiting trial in Japan, said they have requested that financial misconduct charges against him be dismissed.

They said in a statement that they filed papers in Tokyo District Court last week, alleging prosecutorial misconduct which would prevent Mr Ghosn having a fair trial.

The filings say the case results from unlawful collusion between prosecutors, government officials and executives at the car giant to drum up criminal allegations in order to remove Mr Ghosn as chairman.

They wanted to prevent him from further integrating Nissan with its French alliance partner Renault SA, according to a statement released by the lawyers today.

“To execute this scheme, the prosecutors illegally ceded their investigative powers to certain Nissan employees and consultants, and, together with Nissan, unlawfully trampled Mr Ghosn’s legal rights in Japan and around the world,” it said.

Mr Ghosn, who says he is innocent, was arrested in November 2018 and is on bail. Prosecutors say they are confident they have a case.

The statement cited as misconduct the alleged abuse of the plea-bargaining system to obtain false and misleading testimony from Nissan employees and reliance on Nissan’s own investigation, which the lawyers claim was biased.

It also cited the seizure of papers related to Mr Ghosn’s trial and media leaks intended to harm his reputation.

“We are asserting his innocence, but this filing asserts that, even before and beyond guilt or innocence, the case itself is unlawful,” Junichiro Hironaka, one of the lawyers, told a press conference.

“They wanted a criminal case and so they went digging around, back in time, to concoct a case.”

Mr Hironaka is known for winning acquittals in a nation with a 99% conviction rate. He is part of an international team of about a dozen lawyers hired by Mr Ghosn.

Mr Hironaka also accused the prosecutors of dragging their feet on presenting evidence, delaying the start of the trial, and hiding some evidence from the defence, including thousands of emails.

He said the latest filings reflect the defence team’s effort to tell its side of the story.

Under Japan’s criminal justice system there is a lengthy stage of pre-trial sessions where the defence and prosecutors present evidence. The latest filing was part of such pre-trial procedures.

The court might not make any decision on the latest filing but in the meantime the trial could start.

It is expected to begin next year but it is not known how long it would last.

Asked whether it was extreme to allege there was a conspiracy against Mr Ghosn, Mr Hironaka said: “You may think this is extreme, but Mr Ghosn’s arrest is extreme.”

He declined to give details, but said the Ghosn defence team included evidence to support its claims in the latest filings.

“They wanted to prevent Nissan to be handed over to France,” he said.

Mr Ghosn was sent to Japan by Renault in the late 1990s and is credited with turning around a then near-bankrupt Nissan and helping transform it into one of the world’s top auto alliances.

The charges against him allege under-reporting his promised compensation in documents and breaching trust in making dubious payments.

His defence argues that the promised compensation which allegedly was not properly reported was never agreed upon.

The defence also says allegations about dubious currency swaps caused no financial loss to Nissan and that payments to a Middle Eastern business were for legitimate services that benefited Nissan.

Mr Hironaka said Mr Ghosn is involved in preparing for his trial and attends pre-trial sessions, including the one on Thursday.

“He is doing fine,” the lawyer said.

Mr Ghosn’s bail conditions forbid him to contact his wife, Carole, a requirement the defence has repeatedly asked to be removed. Another such request was filed on Thursday, Mr Hironaka added.

Prosecutors say the restriction is to prevent Mr Ghosn and his wife colluding in ways that could jeopardise the case.

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