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Key players in the Ghosn saga

The case of Ghosn has gripped Japan and the business world
The case of Ghosn has gripped Japan and the business world AFP/File
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Tokyo (AFP)

The rollercoaster saga of former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has gripped Japan and the business world since the tycoon was arrested out of the blue on November 19 as his private jet taxied into a Tokyo airport.

As the Renault board meets to appoint a successor to the fallen kingpin of the automotive industry, AFP looks at the key players in the Ghosn drama.

- The legal eagles: Otsuru and Morimoto -

The two legal hot-shots with Ghosn's fate in their hands as he remains behind bars for more than two months.

Motonari Otsuru, Ghosn's lead defence lawyer, is a calm and precise former top prosecutor who has kept a much lower profile than defence attorneys would generally in the West.

He has spoken on the record only once, surprising many observers by suggesting his client had little hope of winning bail before a trial expected in at least six months and revealing that Ghosn had not complained about his detention conditions.

Prosecutor Hiroshi Morimoto is known as the "ace of aces", a high-flyer in an elite special department that deals only with the most high-profile allegations -- with the internationally scrutinised Ghosn case being one of the biggest in its history.

In a quirk of fate, Otsuru used to be Morimoto's boss and the pair are now engaged in a tactical game of legal cat-and-mouse.

They appear to have contrasting personalities. While former colleagues describe Morimoto as "passionate and a go-getter", Otsuru is known as "calm and analytical."

- The managers: Saikawa and Bollore -

The effective bosses of Nissan and Renault respectively, Hiroto Saikawa and Thierry Bollore both rose through the ranks under Ghosn's wing.

Saikawa was long considered one of "Ghosn's children", a loyalist to his boss who owed him his career but then oversaw his downfall.

The mild-mannered 65-year-old Nissan lifer stunned observers when he let rip at his former mentor just hours after Ghosn's arrest.

Saikawa seemed to take the allegations as a personal betrayal, saying: "It's way beyond being sorry. I feel, I don't know, big disappointment and frustration and despair. Indignation and resentment."

The 55-year-old Bollore is known as an old Asia hand who has spent most of his career on the continent in the car industry.

One industry insider who worked alongside him described the discrete father-of-five as "very rigorous, very dedicated -- but at the same time very warm". He has "calm, analytical qualities" that should help him in relations with his Japanese counterparts.

A keen sailor, he will need to steer Renault through choppy waters if, as expected, he is promoted from interim CEO to the chief executive role on Thursday.

- The right hand woman (and man): Sepehri and Kelly -

Mouna Sepehri, Renault's head of legal affairs and communications, has enjoyed a stunning rise through the ranks of a "very masculine" sector but the close Ghosn ally has since found herself embroiled in his affairs.

The Franco-Iranian lawyer received payments totalling nearly 500,000 euros ($580,000) on top of her salary over several years, according to documents obtained by AFP.

A Renault source said executives at both the French company and Nissan had received bonuses for specific tasks and the firm slammed what it called a "deliberately orchestrated campaign of destabilisation".

Greg Kelly, a US executive considered as Ghosn's right-hand man, was arrested at the same time as his boss and charged with conspiracy to under-declare his income.

Released on bail of 70 million yen ($635,000) on Christmas Day, he declared his innocence in a statement and vowed to clear his name at trial.

Suffering from a spinal condition, he went from prison to hospital and his bail conditions state he may not leave Japan, make contact with anyone involved in the case or tamper with evidence.

- The wives: Carole Ghosn and Dee Kelly -

After a long initial period of silence, the wives of the two jailed Nissan execs voiced anger and concern over their husbands' fates.

Dee Kelly lashed out in a video, saying her husband was "tricked into coming to Japan and betrayed by a group of Nissan executives as part of a political power grab. Their dishonourable motives are clear".

She added she was "extremely concerned about his health".

Carole Ghosn issued a nine-page statement in which she appealed to Human Rights Watch over his "harsh" detention conditions.

"For hours each day, the prosecutors interrogate him, browbeat him, lecture him, and berate him, outside the presence of his lawyers, in an effort to extract a confession," said Ghosn.

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