Decision to flee was the most difficult of my life, says Ghosn

He attacks Japan's justice system at first press conference since his arrest over a year ago

Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn says he fled to Lebanon last week to escape a "rigged" justice system in Japan, where he believed he would not get a fair trial.
The case in which Carlos Ghosn allegedly hid while fleeing Japan for Lebanon, via Turkey. His flight from Japan last month marked the latest twist in a saga that began with his stunning arrest at Tokyo's Haneda airport in November 2018. PHOTO: AGENCE
Carlos Ghosn, former head of Nissan Motor and Renault, taking questions from journalists while speaking to the media at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut yesterday. Ghosn, who is accused of understating his income and raiding corporate resources for personal gain at Nissan, said the allegations against him were untrue.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The case in which Carlos Ghosn allegedly hid while fleeing Japan for Lebanon, via Turkey. His flight from Japan last month marked the latest twist in a saga that began with his stunning arrest at Tokyo's Haneda airport in November 2018. PHOTO: AGENCE
The case in which Carlos Ghosn allegedly hid while fleeing Japan for Lebanon, via Turkey. His flight from Japan last month marked the latest twist in a saga that began with his stunning arrest at Tokyo’s Haneda airport in November 2018.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIRUT • Carlos Ghosn went on the attack against Japan's criminal justice system less than two weeks after becoming the world's most famous fugitive with a daring escape to Lebanon, saying the decision to flee was the most difficult of his life.

"I was brutally taken from my world as I knew it," the former head of Nissan Motor and Renault said in Beirut yesterday, addressing a press conference for the first time since his arrest for financial crimes in Japan over a year ago.

"I was ripped from my family, my friends, from my communities, and from Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi."

Displaying the energy and persuasiveness that helped him rise to the top of the global auto industry, Ghosn offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations against him, while trashing the recent performance of the carmakers and international alliance he formerly ran.

Ghosn took questions from reporters from around the world, switching easily from English to French, Arabic and Portuguese.

His flight from Japan, an escape worthy of a Hollywood spy thriller, marked the latest twist in a saga that began with his stunning arrest at Tokyo's Haneda airport in November 2018.

Now, free to speak his mind, the 65-year-old is seeking to salvage his legacy, blighted by allegations of understating his income and raiding corporate resources for personal gain at Nissan. He is also under investigation in France.

After more than a year in Japan's criminal justice system, including months locked in a cell, Ghosn has scores to settle.

"I was presumed guilty before the eyes of the world," he said at yesterday's press conference.

"This (escape) was the most difficult decision of my life but I was facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 per cent, and I believe this number is far higher for foreigners," he said.

"I am here to expose a system of justice that violates the most basic principles of humanity," Ghosn said. "These allegations are untrue and I should never have been arrested."

He said he would stand trial "in any country where I believe I can receive a fair trial".


Former Nissan and Renault chief Carlos Ghosn said in Beirut yesterday that he had been treated “brutally” by Tokyo prosecutors and was the victim of a conspiracy to oust him from the helm of Nissan. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He said his lawyers told him he might have had to spend five more years in Japan before his case would be resolved.

He laid the blame for his treatment not only on prosecutors, but also on government officials, Nissan and its law firm. Because they leaked false information and withheld information that might have helped him, Ghosn said, he was presumed guilty without the ability to clear his name.

However, he said he did not believe Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was aware of the plot against him, and declined to identify other government officials to avoid creating a rift between Japan and Lebanon.

 
 
 
 

"My unimaginable ordeal over the past 14 months was the result of an orchestrated campaign spearheaded by a handful of unscrupulous, vindictive individuals at Nissan and at the Latham & Watkins law firm, with the support of the Tokyo prosecutor's office," Ghosn said.

He accused Japanese prosecutors, government officials and Nissan executives of conspiring to topple him to prevent a further integration of the Japanese carmaker with Renault.

Ghosn was facing trials that could have landed him in prison for more than a decade.

Nissan also went on the offensive on Tuesday, saying its internal investigation found Ghosn had engaged in personal use of company money and had under-reported his income in violation of Japanese law.

Lebanon's state news agency said a public prosecutor had summoned Ghosn for questioning today.

Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said Ghosn's statements during the press conference "failed to justify his acts".

"Ghosn's allegations completely ignore his own conduct, and his one-sided criticism of the Japanese criminal justice system is totally unacceptable," it said. "Our office has developed our factual and legal arguments and disclosed the supporting evidence to Ghosn's defence counsel in order to guarantee a fair and public trial."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2020, with the headline 'Decision to flee was the most difficult of my life, says Ghosn'. Print Edition | Subscribe