TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn, still barred from leaving Japan as he awaits trial on financial misconduct charges, spends his days convening not only with lawyers but also his personal trainer.
It is no coincidence the indicted former Nissan chairman is working out, walking and bicycling to regain weight he lost during his 129 days of lockup in Tokyo. To hear his wife, Carole Ghosn, tell it, the fallen auto legend is gearing up for the battle of his life, not unlike a boxer in training for a big fight.
“He’s healthy in body and mind. He’s getting weight again, and he’s combative,” Carole said in a phone interview last week. “He’s ready to defend himself and prove his innocence.”
One thing 65-year-old Carlos won’t be doing is pleading his case in public anytime soon.
Carole says plans for a long-anticipated news conference are on indefinite pause because his advisers fear reprisals from prosecutors. Carlos, she notes, was arrested and jailed in April just a day after he, then free on bail, took to Twitter to say he would hold a presser.
“He’s not going to speak out. He’s scared,” Carole said in a wide-ranging talk with Automotive News. “No more press conference. After what happened to him last time, it was a very clear signal that ‘You keep your mouth shut.’ ”
Carlos remains on a short leash of stringent bail conditions that restrict everything from his Internet access to his contact with his wife — the couple is barred from direct communication.
Running afoul of prosecutors, she said, invites even closer scrutiny.
“He’s not going to shoot himself in the foot,” said Carole, adding that she only hears how Carlos is doing through third parties such as lawyers.
“He’s not going to do anything when he’s under their control and speak out against them when they can very easily find any excuse to put him in detention,” she said.
Carole said she hasn’t seen her husband since April 4 and that five applications to visit him were rejected. The Tokyo prosecutor has opposed a meeting, citing a risk of evidence tampering. Carole counters that barring contact is a warrantless pressure tactic for strong-arming a confession.
Prosecutors have said they arrested Carlos Ghosn in April — the fourth time — on legitimate suspicion of a separate crime, breach of trust. Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, said in July that Ghosn was not prohibited from holding a press conference. But he added that if there were any evidence justifying a rearrest, that could happen at any time.
Carole Ghosn said her husband was innocent of all charges and contended that he was a victim of a corporate coup that culminated in his stunning Nov. 19 arrest on the tarmac of Tokyo’s Haneda airport. She also claimed Japanese authorities were unfairly singling out Ghosn for prosecution because he wasn’t Japanese.
Carole contended that Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry conspired with forces inside Nissan to block what they feared would be a full merger with French partner Renault.
“They wanted to go back to Japan Inc. They were scared of this merger,” she said. “And they were trying to dig up something on Carlos, get rid of him and stop the merger.”
Nissan said it was not in a position to comment on judicial processes or decisions. But the company has said the “sole cause of this chain of events” was financial misconduct by Ghosn.
“Nissan’s internal investigation uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct. This resulted in a unanimous board vote to discharge Ghosn,” Nissan said in a statement.
Ghosn faces four indictments in Japan. The first two are charges of failing to disclose tens of millions of dollars in deferred compensation. The two other counts are breach of trust charges that accuse Ghosn of diverting company money for personal gain.
Ghosn, who denies the entire slate of charges, faces up 15 years in prison and a fine of up to ¥150 million ($1.4 million) if convicted on all four counts.
As Ghosn gears up to finally tell his side of the story in court, expect a drawn-out affair.
Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported last month that the Tokyo court plans to hold the first hearing for Ghosn, on the compensation disclosure charges, only on April 21.
When the court finally convenes, Carole Ghosn doubts whether her husband can get a fair trial. Clearing him on all charges would be an embarrassing indictment of Japan’s justice system, she suggested.
“They’re going to say, ‘We did all this, and now he’s innocent?’ What’s going to happen to their government or their judicial system?” she said. “Is it going to collapse? Is it going to change? Of course, to save face, they’re going to have to find him guilty on something. … The system is rigged.”
Naoto Okamura contributed to this report.