Carlos Ghosn says he is innocent, passes onus of trading losses to Nissan

Carlos Ghosn rejected claims he failed to disclose income from Nissan Motor Co. and passed on trading losses to the carmaker, in his first public comments since his shock arrest almost two months ago.

“I have been wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “I have acted honorably, legally and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company - with the sole purpose of strengthening Nissan.”

The former Nissan chairman, once feted as the automaker’s savior, appeared in a navy blue suit and white shirt and seemed to have lost weight, according to local broadcasters.

Tuesday’s hearing at a Tokyo district court was the first chance for Ghosn to give his side of the story. He told the court that contrary to the accusations made by prosecutors, he got no compensation from Nissan that wasn’t disclosed.

Here are his key points:

Draft proposals for post-retirement compensation were reviewed by internal and external lawyers, showing he had no intent to break the law

Asked Nissan to take on collateral linked to foreign-exchange forward contracts “as it came to no cost to the company”; the contracts were then transferred back to him without the carmaker incurring any loss. The contracts were entered into because the company paid him in yen while he preferred dollar income.

Helped transform Nissan into a pillar of the Japanese economy, with revival of icons such as the Fairlady Z

Always acted with integrity and has never been accused of any wrongdoing in his professional career

After weeks in jail, the executive’s public defense -- in his own words -- was highly anticipated: A whopping 1,122 tickets were handed out Tuesday in a lottery to attend Ghosn’s hearing -- about 80 times oversubscribed -- for the 14 public seats available in the courtroom gallery.

New Dimension

The high-profile executive was the architect of the alliance between Nissan, France’s Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. While he was dismissed as Nissan chairman shortly after his arrest, Renault has kept him on as chairman and chief executive officer because it needs evidence of wrongdoing.

And his appearance lends a new dimension to a legal battle that has been largely one-sided. Accusations against him have layered up and his confinement has repeatedly been extended. He was re-arrested on fresh charges on Dec. 21, just when it looked like he may be able to apply for bail.

“I look forward to beginning the process of defending myself against the accusations that have been made against me,” he said in the statement.

In his statement, Ghosn sought to highlight his loyalty to Nissan and he spoke of “a genuine love and appreciation” for the company. He said four major companies tried to recruit him while he was Nissan CEO. He even named some of the people who reached out to him -- Bill Ford at Ford Motor Co., and Steve Rattner, the Obama administration’s car czar at the time, who tapped Ghosn for a position at General Motors Co.

Ghosn turned them down. "Even though their proposals were very attractive, I could not in good conscience abandon Nissan while we were in the midst of our turnaround," he said in today’s statement.

Meanwhile, a Saudi partner of Nissan came to the defense of Ghosn after a $14.7 million payment to the Middle Eastern company came under the scrutiny of prosecutors in the probe. The transaction over four years was for legitimate business purposes, the firm said.

Tuesday’s sessions followed a request by Ghosn’s legal team for the court to explain why he still remains in detention.

If proven, each of Ghosn’s alleged offenses may carry a sentence of as much as 10 years, prosecutors have said. Nissan has also accused Ghosn of misusing company funds, including over homes from Brazil to Lebanon and hiring his sister on an advisory contract.

Ghosn’s legal team is due to speak to the press at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo at 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday. His chief lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, will read a statement from Ghosn.

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