By Marcelo Rochabrun
SAOPAULO (Reuters) – The battle between Nissan Motor Co Ltd <7201.T> and its ousted Chairman Carlos Ghosn in Brazil’s courts escalated on Thursday after the Japanese carmaker sued his sister alleging “unjust enrichment” and his lawyers alleged Nissan could have planted evidence.
In the afternoon, Nissan faced a setback in its battle to secure the contents of a beachfront apartment in Rio that Ghosn used when he ran the company and which it says may contain evidence of wrongdoing. An appellate judge ruled that Ghosn or his daughter must be allowed into the apartment for 24 hours to retrieve personal belongings.
Brazilian-born Ghosn was arrested last month and indicted this week in Japan for allegedly underreporting his income. Nissan also alleges he diverted company funds to pay for personal expenses. He has been held in a Japanese court since his arrest.
The Rio apartment has become the centre of a side battle to the case being fought in Japan. Nissan says it has found three safes there that could contain evidence of Ghosn’s alleged crimes.
Ghosn and his daughter, however, have sued to retrieve what they say are personal items, such as “photographs, jewellery, watches and books.”
In court papers, lawyers for Ghosn said that since Nissan had entered the apartment after his arrest, the automaker could have “inserted objects or documents that could compromise his good reputation.”
A representative for Nissan in Brazil declined to comment. A Ghosn family representative had no comment on the “unjust enrichment” lawsuit and did not respond to a request for comment on the apartment decision.
Additional details regarding the unjust enrichment lawsuit were not immediately available and it was unclear how long it might take to resolve the case.
The Japanese press had already reported that Ghosn’s elder sister, Claudine Bichara de Oliveira, could be embroiled in the scandal.
Nissan’s internal investigation found that Ghosn had instructed the company since 2002 to pay about $100,000 a year to his sister, according to a November report by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily by circulation, that cited unnamed sources. The compensation was supposed to be for a role as an adviser.
The paper added that Bichara de Oliveira had in fact been living in and managing the Rio apartment that Nissan had bought for the use of Ghosn and that she had done no advisory work for the carmaker.
(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Christian Plumb, David Gregorio and Richard Chang)