Lawyer famous for acquittals to defend Nissan ex-chairman Ghosn

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A lawyer famous for winning extremely rare acquittals in Japan has been hired to defend Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn as he battles charges of false financial reporting and breach of trust.

The move to recruit Junichiro Hironaka underscores Ghosn’s determination to prove his innocence.

The odds are against him: in Japanese courts, 99% of cases get guilty verdicts.

Ghosn thanked his former legal team “for their tireless and diligent work and courage during the interrogation phase”, but said he wanted to hire a different lawyer for the trial.

“As we begin the trial phase, I have decided to engage Hironaka-sensei as my legal counsel,” Ghosn said in a statement, referring to Mr Hironaka with the honorific for teacher, often used in Japan for lawyers.

Junichiro Hironaka
Junichiro Hironaka (Kyodo News via AP)

Motonari Ohtsuru, the lawyer who had initially headed his defence, resigned as of Wednesday.

Mr Hironaka has won some high-profile cases, including the acquittal in 2012 of a senior politician, Ichiro Ozawa, who was charged with false accounting in a land deal.

Lawyer Hiroshi Kawatsu, an expert in judicial reform who has studied and done research in the US, has also joined Ghosn’s defence team, Mr Hironaka’s office said.

The two do not share Mr Ohtsuru’s background as a former star Tokyo prosecutor.

In Japan, lawyers who are former prosecutors are thought to have an edge thanks to their deep understanding of prosecutors’ work.

But Mr Ohtsuru and Ghosn have appeared at odds over his defence strategy, with Ghosn strongly asserting his innocence from the start through his own statements, as well as those of his other lawyers, family members and representatives.

Motonari Ohtsuru
Motonari Ohtsuru (Koji Sasahara/AP)

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, lawyer Akira Kitani, a former judge praised for handing down innocent verdicts, said he thought Ghosn should replace Mr Ohtsuru, and “the sooner the better”.

He suggested Mr Ohtsuru had not been forceful enough in asserting his client’s innocence.

Unlike in the US, in Japan prosecutors can appeal to a higher court if a suspect is found innocent.

Japanese prosecutors also tend to have more influence with judges.

The Tokyo District Court, prosecutors and Ghosn’s lawyers were scheduled to meet on Thursday to work on preparing for his trial.

Trials in Japan take much preparation and the meeting does not mean it will start soon.

In France, car maker Renault said it will not pay former chairman Ghosn compensation following his resignation.

Renault said in a statement that its board unanimously decided to waive Ghosn’s “non-compete commitment and, consequently, not to pay the corresponding compensation equal to two years fixed and variable compensation”.

The car maker also cancelled shares granted to Ghosn from 2015 to 2018, which were subject to his continued presence at Renault.

The board noted “that such condition is not met, thereby triggering the loss of Mr Ghosn’s rights to the definitive acquisition of such shares”.

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