Carlos Ghosn appears in court amid Nissan and Infiniti executive shakeup

Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn

Embattled auto industry icon and former Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance boss Carlos Ghosn appeared in court on Tuesday for the first time since his Nov. 19 arrest. The appearance gave him his first opportunity to tell his story as Japanese prosecutors charged the executive with financial misconduct.

CNN Business reported Ghosn told the judge he is “innocent of the accusations” and he always acted “honorably and legally” and with the knowledge of the appropriate company executives as he worked to rescue Nissan from financial disaster two decades ago. His work built the Renault-Nissan alliance, which expanded to add Mitsubishi in 2016. Tuesday’s court hearing was also Ghosn’s chance to question his lengthy detention in a Japanese prison. The former alliance boss has remained in jail for seven weeks and could remain held until his trial six months from now.

Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn

According to a written version of the testimony, Ghosn also claimed he had been recruited by four major automakers, including Ford and General Motors during his time as Nissan CEO. While he turned down all those offers, he kept records of the compensations the rivals had offered as a benchmark.

Ghosn was indicted on Dec. 10 for allegedly under-reporting his income by tens of millions of dollars between 2010 and 2015, a practice that might have extended beyond that period.

Prosecutors said Ghosn is a flight risk, but his lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, argued Ghosn is too well known to disappear should he be released on bail. Ghosn was re-arrested on fresh charges Dec. 21, which extended his holding period until Jan. 11. The new charges claim Ghosn transferred personal investment losses to Nissan during the global financial crisis. Otsuru has filed a request to the court to release Ghosn on bail, noting Nissan did not incur any financial losses with reference to the latest charges and board members approved any financial transactions.

Throughout the legal drama, Nissan and Mitsubishi removed Ghosn as their chairman. Renault has not formally removed the executive from his position as CEO and chairman, but Ghosn’s chairman duties have been transferred to independent director Phillippe Lagayette. Chief Operating Officer Thierry Bolloren took over as interim CEO of the French automaker.

Executive shakeups continue to reverberate throughout the Nissan organization. On Monday, Infiniti announced Christian Meunier as its new president of the brand. Effective immediately, he replaced Roland Krueger, who led the brand since 2015. Krueger and Meunier are not named in the Ghosn case, and Krueger claimed that he elected to leave the company for new opportunities. 

Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn

Meanwhile, two Nissan executives have taken abrupt leaves of absences. José Muñoz, Nissan’s chief performance officer with oversight in China, abruptly announced a leave of absence on Saturday, according to The Financial Times (subscription required). His surprise leave comes as Nissan found issues with supplier contracts in North America from 2014 to 2018 that Muñoz signed, according to the report.

In addition, head of human resources for Nissan and talent management for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Arun Bajaj, announced his own absence. Bajaj is reportedly sharing information with Japanese prosecutors about Ghosn’s tax dealings. Neither Muñoz or Bajaj have been accused of any wrongdoing.

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