TOKYO: For the first time since prosecutors stormed his private jet seven weeks ago, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn appeared in public to deliver a passionate defence, rebutting allegations that have seen him languishing in Japanese custody.
Here is what we learned from the 64-year-old’s day in court:
GHOSN (STILL) BIG IN JAPAN
Perhaps unsurprisingly given Carlos Ghosn’s profile as the most-recognised foreign executive in Japan, the public interest was enormous.
Journalists staked out positions from well before dawn at the court and the detention centre, hoping – in vain as it turned out – to catch a glimpse of the former Nissan boss.
Some Japanese TV stations deployed helicopters to provide viewers with an aerial view of the drab grey building in northern Tokyo which has been home to Ghosn for more than seven weeks.
At the court, queues snaked around the block as 1,122 people lined up for a lottery ticket to be one of the lucky few to clinch only 14 seats reserved for the public.
CUSTODY TAKES ITS TOLL
One of Ghosn’s main complaints about conditions in custody has been the food, which is almost exclusively rice-based and the change in diet for the high-flying executive had clearly taken its toll.
His family said he had lost up to 20kg in detention and he appeared noticeably more gaunt, his cheeks sunken and his cheek bones more prominent than before.
“He has indeed lost quite some weight. His face is quite a lot thinner now,” said his lawyer Motonari Otsuru.
His dark hair was now flecked with grey but apart from a few coughs, he spoke in a strong clear voice and appeared otherwise in rude health.
“THE NISSAN EMOTION”
Ghosn delivered a systematic point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations against him but also peppered his statement with rhetorical flourishes.
Turning around Nissan was “the greatest joy of my life, next to my family,” he said.
This was a goal he worked towards “day and night, on the earth and in the air, standing shoulder to shoulder with hardworking Nissan employees around the globe.”
He also showered affection on the company to which he said he had “dedicated two decades” of his life.
“I have a genuine love and appreciation for Nissan,” said Ghosn.
“A BED FOR THE BOSS”
In a huge contrast to his usual lavish lifestyle, Ghosn was initially detained in a tiny cell with Japanese-style tatami mats to sleep on.
But his lawyer Otsuru revealed that Ghosn had now been moved to a “larger room with a Western-style bed.”
He has still not been allowed visits from his family but Otsuru said the defence team could apply for special permission for him to see his loved ones.
“HE CAN’T RUN, HE CAN’T HIDE”
The crux of the matter being judged at Tuesday’s (Jan 8) hearing was to explain to Ghosn why he was still being detained and in the judge’s view, this was an open-and-shut case.
Presiding Judge Yuichi Tada noted that Ghosn had “bases in foreign countries” and could “escape”. Tada also said there were grounds to suspect he could tamper with evidence or induce others to. Based on this, “we decided there is a need for detention,” said Tada.
The defence team plainly found this risible, as a man as high-profile as Ghosn could scarcely melt into the background.
“He’s CEO of French company Renault. He’s widely known so it’s difficult for him to escape,” said Go Kondo from Ghosn’s defence team.