TOKYO — Nissan’s former Chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested Thursday morning for a fourth time by Tokyo prosecutors investigating him for alleged financial misconduct while leading the Japanese automaker.
Tokyo prosecutors said Ghosn’s arrest was on suspicion he diverted $5 million from funds that were being relayed from a Nissan subsidiary to an overseas dealership. Their statement said the money is suspected of going to a company Ghosn virtually ran.
Ghosn’s whereabouts following his detention were unclear. TV footage showed officials entering Ghosn’s apartment in Tokyo, and a car later going to the prosecutors’ office, barely a month after Ghosn was released on bail from the earlier arrests. A car with the same license plate was later seen entering the Tokyo Detention Center, where Ghosn spent more than three months following his arrest on Nov. 19.
A spokesman for Ghosn issued a statement in which he strongly declared his innocence. The spokesman would not be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“My arrest this morning is outrageous and arbitrary,” Ghosn said in the statement. “It is part of another attempt by some individuals at Nissan to silence me by misleading the prosecutors. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken. I am innocent of the groundless charges and accusations against me.”
Ghosn, 65, was first arrested on charges of under-reporting his compensation. He was rearrested twice in December, including on breach of trust charges. The multiple arrests prolong detentions without trial and are an oft-criticized prosecution tactic in Japan’s criminal justice system.
The prosecutors’ statement did not mention Oman, but the allegation appears related to the investigation by Nissan Motor Co.’s French alliance partner Renault about payments in Oman to a major dealership, some of which is suspected of having been channeled for Ghosn’s personal use.
Ghosn’s lawyer Junichiro Hironaka denounced the arrest, stressing that a rearrest during release on bail was unusual. His release on bail in March was unusually quick for Japan, where long detentions without convictions are routine
“This is an example of hostage justice,” Hironaka told reporters. “This is meant to hurt Mr. Ghosn and give more advantage to the prosecutors’ side.”
Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa expressed surprise about the arrest, although it had been rumored for days.
“So much can happen. I am shocked,” he told reporters as he left his home.
Ghosn’s family expressed worries about another detention, calling it in a statement, “solitary confinement as part of an attempt to force a confession.”
Ghosn has denied the accusations in the earlier charges. On the allegation of under-reported compensation at Nissan, he has said it involved payments that were never decided or that were to be paid in the future. He has also said Nissan never suffered losses for his personal investments and that allegedly dubious payments in Saudi Arabia were for legitimate services.
Ghosn had tweeted he would hold a news conference April 11, where he would tell “the truth” on what was unfolding. A condition for his release on bail included not using the internet, but it is unclear if the authorities are considering the tweet a technical violation.
“I am confident that if tried fairly, I will be vindicated,” he said in the statement Thursday. “I am determined that the truth will come out. I am confident that if tried fairly, I will be vindicated.”
The allegations in the most recent arrest cover three money transfer operations from 2015 through last year, according to the prosecutors.
Ghosn was a star in the auto industry, having steered Nissan for two decades from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the largest groups in the industry, allied with Renault and smaller Japanese partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
Nissan declined comment on the criminal proceedings. The company is a co-defendant on the under-reporting of compensation charges.
Hironaka said this week that at least two Nissan employees are cooperating with the prosecutors. Several other Nissan officials have been questioned by the prosecutors as part of the investigation.
The maker of the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models is holding a shareholders’ meeting next week to oust Ghosn from its board.
“Nissan’s internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct,” said company spokesman Nicholas Maxfield.
The maximum penalty upon conviction on charges of under-reporting compensation and breach of trust is 15 years in prison. It is unclear when Ghosn’s trial may begin. Preparations for trials in Japan routinely take months.
Story: Yuri Kageyama