Nissan’s Ghosn claims innocence in first appearance since November arrest…

Ousted Nissan Motor Co Chairman Carlos Ghosn declared his innocence in his first public appearance since his arrest in November, telling a Tokyo court on Tuesday that he was wrongly accused of financial misconduct.

“I have been wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” Ghosn told the Tokyo District Court. He spoke clearly, though he looked thinner with sunken cheeks and his dark hair showing gray roots.

“Contrary to the accusations made by the prosecutors, I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed, nor did I ever enter into any binding contract with Nissan to be paid a fixed amount that was not disclosed,” Ghosn said.

Journalists and television crews thronged outside the court as Ghosn – credited with rescuing Nissan from near-bankruptcy two decades ago – entered in handcuffs and a rope around his waist, led in by two guards.

The hearing received top billing on TV news updates throughout the day and some 1,122 people had lined up for 14 court seats assigned by lottery, highlighting the interest in the case of the once-feted executive.

The court hearing, requested by Ghosn’s lawyers, was held to explain the reasons for his prolonged detention since his Nov. 19 arrest rather than to argue merits of the case. Presiding Judge Yuichi Tada said the detention was due to flight risk and possibility he could conceal evidence.

Ghosn used the opportunity to deny accusations against him, a move that defense lawyer Masashi Akita said could prove risky if prosecutors use it to build their case.

“From my point of view as a defense lawyer, there is some risk in disclosing his opinion in open court,” he said.

Ghosn’s legal team, headed by former prosecutor Motonari Otsuru, are expected to explain his defense at a press conference later in the day.