TOKYO — In his first public appearance since his arrest nearly two months ago, Carlos Ghosn pushed back on Tuesday against the accusations that toppled him from the top of a global automotive empire, declaring he was innocent of all allegations.
“I have always acted with integrity and have never been accused of any wrongdoing in my several-decade professional career,” Mr. Ghosn planned to say, according to prepared remarks distributed as a hearing began in Tokyo District Court. “I have been wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations.”
Mr. Ghosn, who until recently was head of the vast car-making alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, was arrested in Japan in November on allegations of financial wrongdoing and has been jailed with limited contact to the outside world ever since. On Tuesday, he was led into court handcuffed, with a rope around his waist. He wore plastic slippers and a dark suit without a tie, according to pool reports, and looked thinner than he had in photos taken before his incarceration.
He was appearing in a packed courtroom to defend himself against allegations that he improperly transferred personal losses to Nissan’s books and withheld millions of dollars in income from Nissan’s financial filings for years as chairman and chief executive.
“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,” Mr. Ghosn, 64, said in his prepared remarks. Pool reports largely confirmed he delivered those remarks as planned.
Judge Yuichi Tada declared on Tuesday that Mr. Ghosn was being detained because he could be a flight risk and was at risk of concealing evidence.
Go Kondo, one of Mr. Ghosn’s lawyers, said that there was no flight risk. “He’s C.E.O. of the French company Renault. He’s widely known, so it’s difficult for him to escape,” Mr. Kondo said, according to pool reports. “There is no risk that the suspect will destroy evidence.”
The hearing was Mr. Ghosn’s first public appearance since his Nov. 19 arrest, when the Japanese authorities seized him shortly after he landed in a corporate jet in Tokyo. A rare foreign corporate leader who became a celebrity in Japan for turning around Nissan nearly two decades ago, the Brazilian-born and Lebanese- and French-educated engineer helped link the three automakers, creating a business that sells more than 10 million cars annually. He oversaw it with more power and longevity than is typical at publicly traded companies.
Now that empire’s fate is in doubt. Mr. Ghosn has since been ousted as chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi. The relationship between Nissan and Renault, where Mr. Ghosn has kept his titles, has become tense.
Mr. Ghosn’s family, which has not been allowed to speak to him since his arrest, believes he is the victim of a corporate coup by other Nissan executives. Nissan has also been indicted, on charges that it underreported Mr. Ghosn’s compensation in legal documents. It has said it is reviewing its compliance standards.
In his prepared remarks, Mr. Ghosn said any plans to pay him after his retirement were nonbinding. “For me, the test is the ‘death test,’” his remarks said. “If I died today, could my heirs require Nissan to pay anything other than my retirement allowance? The answer is an unequivocal ‘No.’”
Mr. Ghosn’s arrest has shone a light on the Japanese justice system, and unsettled some who have long seen the country as a good place to do business. Mr. Ghosn has faced government interrogation without a lawyer. He has been held in a small room and can be visited only by diplomats or his Japanese lawyer.
In total, he has been arrested three times, twice on allegations that he underreported his compensation and once on allegations he transferred personal losses to Nissan’s books and improperly used Nissan funds to pay a Saudi businessman to provide collateral for those paper losses.
Mr. Ghosn said in his prepared remarks that he had asked Nissan to “temporarily take on the collateral, so long as it came to no cost to the company, while I gathered collateral from my other sources.”
He said Nissan had “appropriately compensated” Khaled Juffali, the Saudi businessman, who was a “partner” to the car company in the Persian Gulf region.
In a separate statement, Mr. Juffali’s company said all Nissan payments to him “were for legitimate business purposes in order to support and promote Nissan’s business strategy in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and included reimbursement for business expenses.”
Late last month, it looked as if Mr. Ghosn might be freed on bail when a Tokyo court rejected a request by the prosecutors’ office to extend his detention along with that of Greg Kelly, a Nissan board member and Mr. Ghosn’s close aide, who had been indicted on the same charge. Mr. Kelly, who suffers from spinal stenosis, was released on bail on Christmas Day and is awaiting surgery outside Tokyo.
Late last week, Mr. Ghosn exercised his legal right to request that the court explain its justification for allowing his detention. His request was relatively rare. According to the Ministry of Justice, only 583 of 104,529 detainees requested that a court explain their cause of detention in 2017.