Japan court OKs extending custody of ex-Nissan chairman

A Japanese court on Friday approved a 10-day extension of the detention of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn.

The Tokyo District Court said it approved a request from prosecutors to keep Ghosn until Dec. 10 for a further investigation of his suspected financial irregularities.

Ghosn, 64, was arrested Nov. 19 by Tokyo prosecutors on suspicion he falsified financial statements and underreported his income and benefits. His first 10 days in custody expires at the end of Friday.

The court said it also approved a 10-day detention extension for another former Nissan executive, Greg Kelly. He was arrested with Ghosn on suspicion he collaborated in the alleged underreporting of his boss' income.

Prosecutors suspect Ghosn under-reported his income by half, or 5 billion yen ($44 million), over five years. Nissan Motor Co. ousted him as its chairman last week, saying an internal investigation prompted by a whistleblower also found Ghosn misused company money and assets.

Ghosn turned around France's Renault SA and then Japan's Nissan, eventually linking them in an alliance with Mitsubishi Motor Corp. in their top-selling venture. The three companies reaffirmed their alliance on Thursday despite the arrests.

No charges have been brought yet and Ghosn has made no public comment about the case. The board of Renault voted to keep him as CEO, pending evidence in the case, but appointed a temporary replacement, and Mitsubishi Motors' board dismissed Ghosn as chairman earlier this week.

Ghosn, a Lebanese who was born in Brazil and studied in France, has been detained in spartan conditions in the Tokyo Detention House, which also holds death row inmates, including doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara until he was hanged earlier this year.

The arrest and detention of such a prominent businessman is shedding light on Japan's pre-indictment detention of suspects, even those suspected of financial crimes, which has long drawn criticism from human rights activists. France and Lebanon also have expressed concern about Ghosn's prolonged detention and a lack of transparency in the investigation.

Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors' Office, brushed off the criticism. He told reporters Thursday that the investigation of the two suspects is being carried out properly under the Japanese criminal justice system, and that the detention of Ghosn and Kelly is to avoid a flight risk. After an initial investigation period, Japanese authorities can detain a suspect up to 20 days per charge, and possibly gain more time by adding more charges.

He said Ghosn has been treated like any other suspect or defendant, with three simple meals a day and eight hours of sleep. Ghosn is communicating with prosecutors through an English-speaking translator during his daily interrogation, but without the presence of a lawyer. Ghosn can meet his lawyers and diplomats from France, Brazil and Lebanon, where he has citizenship, Kukimoto said.

At the time of his arrest, Ghosn was heading the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which says it sold more than 10.6 million vehicles in nearly 200 countries in 2017.


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