Carlos Ghosn speaks out in first appearance since escape from Japan

The former Nissan boss is wanted on charges of financial misconduct but asserts his innocence

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Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn arrived at the Lebanese Journalists’ Syndicate headquarters in Beirut to talk publicly for the first time after escaping from Japan in what his wife describes as “the most important speech of his whole life”.

He arrived with his partner, Carole Ghosn, and his lawyer Francois Zimeray.

Mr Ghosn was greeted by Aouni Kaaki, the head of the Lebanese Press Federation, who said that all Lebanese people are proud of the former Nissan boss as he addressed the media.

'I'm here to clear my name'

Mr Ghosn said he is not planning to address how he left Japan, although he added that he understands the interest, but in why he had to leave Japan. "I'm here to clear my name .... these allegations are untrue and I should never have been arrested in the first place."

Mr Ghosn said he was brutally taken from his family and friends by Japanese prosecutors and held in confinement that went against United Nations standards.

“When I was finally granted bail for the first time I was ruthlessly thrown back into confinement,” he said.

“It is important for me to emphasize, I’m not above the law and I welcome the truth to come out and have my name vindicated and truth restored... I did not escape justice, I fled injustice and persecution,” he said. "For the first time since this nightmare began I can speak freely and answer your questions.

"This was the most difficult decision of my life but let us not forget that we are facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 per cent and I bet you that this is much higher for foreigners."

Mr Ghosn's questioned openly the idea of a plot against him and who is involved "Who is part of the plot? Sakuyama? Many others [at] Toyota as member[s] of the board [are] member[s] of board of Nissan."

'I felt I was not human anymore'

When asked about his detention conditions Ghosn said there was a "tiny cell with no window, light day and night; 30 minutes per day excluding weekend because there is no guard, you can’t go 30 minutes outside; when there is a holiday you don’t see anybody; shower twice a week; prescribed medicine only; up to 8 hours interrogation without presence of a lawyer, impossible to speak to anyone; no one speaks English or French" he said.

"When we need something important we have to bring somebody available once a week, presumption of guilt prevails, you’re guilty, don’t play games, confess, everything they asked me not for truth but reasons to make sure their accusation is stronger." Mr Ghosn added.

Mr Ghosn went on to speak about his wife saying "They put a warrant arrest on my wife for declarations made nine months ago in front of judge and prosecutor they said they suspect she said something that was wrong.

"Nine months arrested from my wife for no reason. Carole has a lot of courage. They took her passport, they were very threatening; they took her computer. She left because she was afraid.

"When they said she has something to hide she flew back 4 days later.

"They interrogated in front of court with judge and prosecutor and then she left. Now they are issuing warrant for false testimony 9 months later. They knew that by not allowing me to have a normal life they were breaking me."

'You will die in Japan or get out'

Mr Ghosn also decried feeling less than human, "I felt I was not human anymore, somewhere between a human an animal and an object. I had the right for 2 hours in 9 months with lawyer in room and the poor guy was embarrassed. He said excuse me I have to be here and I have to report what you said to your wife. That’s what we’re talking about."

On his trial, Mr Ghosn said "when I asked my lawyer how much time this would take they said we are afraid you’ll be five years in japan before you get a judgement; speedy trial is basic right for any human being, part of treaty of human rights" Mr Ghosn stated.

Mr Ghosn stated: "you will die in japan or get out." He continued that "I felt I was hostage of a country I served for 17 years. I dedicate my professional life I was proud of it.

"I was considered [a] role model in japan, more than 20 books of management were written about me and like this in a few months a few prosecutor[s] and a bunch of executives said this guy is a cold, cold greedy dictator; that’s what they said, cold greedy dictator."

On explaining the charges through documents Mr Ghosn admonished his inability to see the documents against him.

"When I was arrested they took everything from me. I had no computers no file[s].

"I had to reconstitute everything to defend myself and obviously I am using here some of the documents the prosecutor delivered to us to allow us to defend ourselves.

"They [prosecutors] focus on the incentive, [it's] is very big. It’s totally normal incentive. But this is something you never heard about. The potential for the middle east is very important and that’s what we were going after.

"Ahmad Barwan was interrogated for one day in Japan. Never heard about it because obviously he didn’t say what they were expecting him to say. He denied all the accusations knowing no one would believe him. You need to know that all the bank accounts, mine, Marwan, [and others] have all been swept. so if there was any payment that was suspicious it would be [on the] front page of the Nikkei or San Kei" he highlighted.

Ghosn bemoans character assassination

The former Nissan boss said the media jumped at the chance to paint him as the bad guy. "Why all of this? Who is the winner of this?" he said.

On the Renault-Nissan alliance

"The alliance disappeared between 3 companies, growth disappeared. Profits are down. I find [a] hard time to see strategic direction no more innovation and no more work. And on top of this: Fiat-Chrysler didn’t go with the Alliance they go with PSA: how can you lose this huge opportunity to become the dominant player in this industry by developing ties with the people who were here to join you.

"Obviously you’ll get explanation saying it’s because of Ghosn. Everything is on me now. But it’s unbelievable this didn’t happen.

"They said we want to turn the Ghosn page, well they have been very successful. They have turned the Ghosn page there is no more growth increase of profit strategic initiatives. No more technology and no more alliance. What we see today is the massacred of an alliance.

"That’s why I’m telling you this is political."

Ghosn's message to Japan

"A final point particularly to our Japanese friends. I was painted in Japan as a cold greedy dictator," Mr Ghosn said.

"They say 'he doesn’t like Japan or Japanese, he’s a mercenary here for the money'. I like Japan and the people in Japan can, I tell you for many months I was on bail was walking in Tokyo alone I had no bodyguards. I went to a restaurant and movies and people greeting me they said they were sorry for what is happening to you.

People in the streets said they don’t think for one second that after celebrating this guy for 17 years all of a sudden he is a villain. They don’t understand it and don’t believe it."

Smuggled out

The circumstances surrounding Mr Ghosn’s clandestine departure from Japan, where he was awaiting trial for several charges of financial misconduct, remain mysterious.

Mr Ghosn, 65, was not allowed to leave Japan but reports suggest he was smuggled out with the help of two US citizens. Reports said Mr Ghosn left Japan in a big box on board a private jet that landed in Turkey. The Wall Street Journal reported that holes were drilled in the box so he could breathe.

Journalists line up to enter the Lebanese Journalists Syndicate building, where ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn is scheduled to hold a press conference, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. The disgraced former chairman of Nissan is expected to speak to journalists in Beirut, more than a week after his dramatic escape from Japan ahead of his trial for alleged financial misconduct. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
The press lines up to enter the Lebanese Journalists Syndicate building where ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn is scheduled to hold a press conference. AP

About 45 minutes later, he boarded a second private jet bound for Lebanon, which he entered legally using a French passport and his Lebanese ID card.

Mr Ghosn has three passports – French, Brazilian and Lebanese – that were kept by his lawyers in Japan. AFP reported Mr Ghosn may have used a second French passport the Tokyo court allowed him to keep “in a locked case”, with the key also held by his lawyers.

Japanese authorities have expressed outrage at his escape and an Interpol red notice has been issued for his arrest. However, Japan and Lebanon do not have an extradition treaty and it remains unlikely Mr Ghosn will be sent back.

On Tuesday, Japan also issued an arrest warrant for his wife, Carole, who is Lebanese. Ms Ghosn says that she knew nothing of Mr Ghosn's plan to abscond.

He denies the charges against him, arguing that Nissan, Japanese authorities and prosecutors plotted against him to block plans for a fuller merger between Nissan and its French partner Renault SA because the move threatened the independence of the Japanese carmaker.

Mr Ghosn’s escape has also concerned senior executives at Nissan and comes at a time when the company’s latest chief executive, Makoto Uchida, is trying to turn around a sliding stock price and falling sales.

“There must be many people at Nissan and Renault who think this could really be dangerous for them if Ghosn speaks,” said Koji Endo, a senior analyst at SBI Securities in Tokyo.