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By Paul A. Eisenstein
Former Nissan President Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo on Thursday for the fourth time, accused of redirecting millions of automaker's dollars to a company as he controlled.
But the recent move of Japanese prosecutors who came less than a month after the Brazilian born practitioner was released from the Tokyo Detention Center after nearly four months in solitary confinement has raised new concerns over both the founding of allegations and wider concerns about the Japanese legal system.
"My arrest tomorrow is monstrous and arbitrary," said Ghosn, just one day after he had tweeted that he was "ready to tell the truth about what is happening."
"It is part of another attempt by some individuals in Nissan to silence me by misleading the accusations. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken. I am innocent of the unfounded charges and accusations against me. "
The 65-year-old Ghosn was arrested along with colleague Greg Kelly on November 19 shortly after landing at Tokyo Haneda Airport. Ghosn was originally accused of hiding millions of dollars of income, with Kelly allegedly helping in the scheme. According to Japanese law, a defendant may be held for a maximum of 10 days, but prosecutors have found several ways to extend Ghosn's first stay, including resuming him and smoothing additional charges.
The case came from which Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa said a report from a "whistleblower" raises concerns about Ghosn's wages and expenses. At present, executive states not only accused of saving more than $ 80 million in income, but also for divesting corporate funds for personal use. While most claims originate from his years at Nissan, where he previously served as CEO, allegations of misuse of funds have also been linked to his broader role with the umbrella group Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
In February, Ghosn agreed to refund the French automaker 50,000 euros, or about $ 57,000, for the cost of a sumptuous Marie-Antoinette-themed wedding party in the Versailles palace in France.
Thursday's arrest comes as prosecutors accused Ghosn of diverting $ 5 million in Nissan funds to be sent to an overseas dealer for a company Ghosn controls.
"We now have a completely different case, and we only do what we think is right," said deputy lawyer Shin Kukimoto of the Tokyo Prosecutor in a meeting with journalists on Thursday.
The new allegations appear to stem from what Nissan has described as a "continuous" study of potential economic inappropriate ethics. But that project itself has proved to be very controversial. In January, Carlos Munoz, the former head of Nissan's North American operations, entered into a dispute over the effort. Toshiyuki Shiga, former Nissan Chief Operating Officer, who continued to earn from the Nissan Board, also offered his resignation, private concerns over the handling of the Ghosn case.
"Millions of dollars cannot be spread by two people," a Nissan Executive and Ghosn Associate who spoke on condition of anonymity told NBC News.
The same source noted that it is a routine process in the Japanese business world that leaders get great benefit, including access to housing, country clubs and private jets that are not officially reported as compensation. If pressured, such issues can be considered illegal, he added, but would be treated as a civil, rather than criminal, offense. Pursuing a senior leader of such issues he emphasized, "is unprecedented in Japan."
Autoindustriers have questioned why Japan's second-largest automaker was trying to make the case first. There is a broad consensus that it reflects a desire by Nissan to push back to the dominance Renault has over the three-man alliance. After saving then almost bankrupt Nissan in 1999, the French automaker has taken a 43.4 percent stake in its Japanese partner. In return, it can designate board members and senior employees unilaterally.
Saikawa recently expressed his desire to move some of this balance of power. He is also opposed to Renault's desire to move beyond an alliance, where all three companies retain their independence. He's been on fire, and many observers question how a CEO – and members of the Nissan Board – would at least have tacitly accepted Ghosn's extra pay and expenses.
Meanwhile, the Japanese legal system has also come under fire, including from human rights groups questioning how it achieves a conviction rate of more than 90 percent.
In Ghosn's case, the practice was originally held in isolation and subject to daily interrogation without a lawyer. Prosecutors regularly demanded that he sign a notice written in Japanese, a language he does not understand.
In February, Ghosn shook his lawyer after several attempts to win bail. Current lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, known for his ability to beat the system and win acquaintances, condemned a month ago what he called "justice of justice" under the auspices of the Foreign Correspondents & # 39; Club of Japan. "This goes against what is defined in the law. This should never be allowed," he said about the Ghosn case.
Many observers believe that prosecutors and Nissan could look to press the former Nissan chief hoping to contract a complaint deal that will see him have earned time in detention and recognize some misdemeanors. It would avoid a very public test that could reveal whether his behavior was more "norm" than "exception" and routinely part of the Japanese approach to big business.