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Ghosn lawyer requests bail after ex-Nissan chairman indicted for fourth time

A video statement made by the former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn is shown on a screen during a news conference by his lawyers at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Tim Kelly and Naomi Tajitsu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese prosecutors indicted Carlos Ghosn on Monday on another charge of aggravated breach of trust, a Tokyo court said, the fourth charge against the former Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman, which his lawyers met immediately with a bail request.

The charge came on the day Ghosn's latest detention period was set to expire. Ghosn had been out on bail when authorities arrested him for a fourth time on April 4 on suspicion he enriched himself at a cost of $5 million (£3.8 million) to the automaker.

"We are confident that we have the evidence to successfully prosecute all four cases," an official from the prosecutor's office said at a briefing after the indictment was announced.

Ghosn has denied all four of the charges, which include understating his income, and said he is the victim of a boardroom coup. He has accused former colleagues of "backstabbing", describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing a closer alliance between Nissan and its top shareholder, France's Renault SA.

"Carlos Ghosn is innocent of the latest charges brought against him by the Tokyo prosecutors, aided and abetted by certain Nissan conspirators," a Ghosn representative said in a statement.

The case has exposed tensions in the Nissan-Renault alliance forged by Ghosn some two decades ago when the French automaker invested in Nissan, then on the brink of bankruptcy - a deal that gave Renault control over its larger partner.

Nissan is due to reject a management integration proposal from Renault and will instead call for an equal capital relationship, the Nikkei newspaper said on Monday, citing sources.

Ghosn's arrest has also focused a harsh light on Japan's judicial system, which critics refer to as "hostage justice" as defendants who deny their charges are often not granted bail.

Under Japanese law, prosecutors are able to hold suspects for up to 22 days without charge and interrogate them without their lawyers present. In accordance with these terms, prosecutors had to indict or release Ghosn by Monday.


CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

According to the latest indictment, Ghosn caused a total of $5 million in losses to Nissan from July 2017 through July 2018.

During that period, prosecutors allege two separate payments of $5 million were made from the account of a Nissan subsidiary into the account of an overseas dealership. A total of $5 million was subsequently transferred from the dealership's account to another account in which Ghosn had an interest.


Nissan said it had filed a criminal complaint against the former chairman in relation to the matter, saying it had determined that some of its overseas payments had been ordered by Ghosn for his personal enrichment.

The payments were "not necessary from a business standpoint", Nissan said in a statement. "Such misconduct is completely unacceptable, and Nissan is requesting appropriately strict penalties."

A court would likely rule on the bail request on Tuesday, Ghosn's lead lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.

Before Ghosn's latest arrest, he had been out on $9 million bail for 30 days. He is now being held in the same Tokyo detention centre where he was detained for 108 days following his initial arrest on the tarmac at a Tokyo airport in November.

Kyodo news agency previously reported, without citing sources, that Nissan funds had been shifted through a car dealer in Oman to the account of a company Ghosn effectively owned.

Sources have previously told Reuters that Renault had alerted French prosecutors after uncovering payments it deemed suspect to a partner in Oman.

Evidence sent to French prosecutors showed much of the cash was channelled to a Lebanese company controlled by associates of Ghosn, who holds Lebanese citizenship, the sources told Reuters.

Ghosn's French lawyer denied the allegations.


(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, Naomi Tajitsu and Tim Kelly; Writing by David Dolan and Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Christopher Cushing and Kirsten Donovan)