Ghosn's new lawyer says bail for former Nissan chief more likely

Junichiro Hironaka, known as "the Razor", more optimistic outlook than former lead lawyer and one-time chief prosecutor Motonari Otsuru

Junichiro Hironaka, a lawyer representing former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn, attends a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, March 4, 2019. Hironaka escalated his public appeal to release Ghosn from prison by hinting at the involvement of a “higher power” in the case and questioning why only his client and an associate have been accused of crimes so far. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg
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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, known as "the Razor" for his successful defence of high-profile cases, told a briefing that his three-person legal team appointed last month would not be bound by the strategy of Mr Ghosn's previous lawyers, whose rebuttal of the charges failed to secure the executive's bail, according to Reuters.

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

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

"I believe it's possible he could be released in the near future," Mr Hironaka said in a more optimistic outlook than former lead lawyer and one-time chief prosecutor Motonari Otsuru, who had suggested Mr 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 Mr Hironaka, who acknowledged a language barrier with his client but added that he had read books authored by Mr Ghosn to get to know his client better.

Mr 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, Mr Ghosn has said he is willing to submit to severe restrictions including video surveillance and communications monitoring to secure freedom before his trial, Mr 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 defence 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, Mr Hironaka said, a process which could take several months.

The appointment of Mr 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," he said, without revealing details of the legal strategy he and is colleagues will pursue.

Since taking over Mr Ghosn's defence 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 Mr 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 car makers.

Mr 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.

Separately, Renault’s new chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is considering replacing at least two board members, according to sources, as he puts his stamp on governance at the French car maker shaken by the downfall of former boss Mr Ghosn.

Cherie Blair, a lawyer and the wife of Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair, probably won’t be asked back for a second four-year term, said the sources. Lead independent director Philippe Lagayette, 75, will also leave the board due to age when his current four-year posting expires in June, they said.

Mr Senard hasn’t made any final decisions and other directors’ mandates could also come under review, the people said, according to Bloomberg. Any board changes need to be ratified by shareholders.

A Renault spokeswoman declined to comment on board plans. Mrs Blair, 64, and Mr Lagayette didn’t respond to requests for comment.