By Associated Press
Kyodo News via AP
TOKYO — Tokyo prosecutors on Wednesday raided a Japanese lawyer’s office where former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn had visited regularly before skipping bail last week and fleeing to Lebanon.
Japanese news footage showed prosecutors marching into Junichiro Hironaka’s office in Tokyo, where a woman answering the phone said the lawyers weren’t there to comment and hung up. Prosecutors declined immediate comment.
Ghosn was under strict bail conditions while preparing for his trial on financial misconduct allegations. But he had been allowed to use a computer at his lawyer’s office under those conditions.
Japanese media reports said prosecutors had likely seized the computer to track down how Ghosn escaped and who might have helped him.
Hironaka has previously said he was stunned by Ghosn’s departure. He has also said he will not disclose information related to Ghosn’s case because of attorney-client privilege.
Ghosn said from Lebanon he fled to escape injustice. He has insisted he is innocent.
A statement released in Ghosn’s defense earlier Wednesday slammed the automaker’s internal investigation as flawed and aimed only at taking him down.
“Nissan’s claim that it conducted ‘a robust, thorough internal investigation’ is a gross perversion of the truth,” said a statement from French consultancy company Image Sept for the defense team.
“It was initiated and carried out for the specific, predetermined purpose of taking down Carlos Ghosn to prevent him from further integrating Nissan and Renault, which threatened the independence of Nissan, one of Japan’s iconic, flagship companies.”
Ghosn, who led the Japanese automaker for two decades, has repeatedly characterized the Japanese criminal case against him as meant to block a fuller merger with Nissan’s French alliance partner Renault /zigman2/quotes/200919924/delayed FR:RNO -1.60% .
Nissan Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/208298710/delayed JP:7201 +2.35% on Tuesday said it would continue to pursue legal action against Ghosn and reiterated its allegations that Ghosn engaged in serious misconduct while leading the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance.
The statement from the French consultants said Nissan never questioned Ghosn directly about the allegations and asserted Nissan has not targeted others at the company, such as Hiroto Saikawa, Ghosn’s successor.
Saikawa resigned last year after allegations related to dubious income surfaced against him. He has not been charged.
It also said a Nissan employee who admitted to wrongdoing was involved in the investigation.
Nissan faces trial as a company in Japan, and it has indicated it will comply and pay required fines.
Ghosn was charged with under-reporting his future compensation and with breach of trust in diverting Nissan money for his personal benefit. He has repeatedly said the compensation was never decided and the payments were for legitimate business.
He was expected to hold a news conference later Wednesday in Beirut.
Also Tuesday, Japan sought the arrest of Carole Ghosn, Ghosn’s wife, who is with him in Lebanon, on suspicion of perjury in statements she made at a Tokyo court last year related to her husband’s case.
Prosecutors have accused her of falsely testifying she didn’t know certain parties involved in monetary transactions that are part of the allegations against Ghosn. Carole Ghosn has in the past brushed off the questioning as inconsequential.
How Ghosn managed to leave Japan while under surveillance as part of his bail conditions has riveted the public.
He is seen on security footage walking alone out of his Tokyo home. He reportedly took a bullet train to Kansai Airport. He flew first to Turkey and then to Lebanon on private jets, according to Turkish airline company MNG Jeta, which said the planes were used illegally.
Japan’s Justice Minister Masako Mori said this week that luggage and cargo checks were being strengthened for private jets at all airports. She did not confirm reports Ghosn hid in a box for musical equipment to escape.
Japan has seized the 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail Ghosn posted. But government officials also have acknowledged that seeking an individual’s return from Lebanon to stand trial is difficult and sensitive. Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, and Lebanon generally does not extradite its citizens.