Japan and Nissan hit back at Ghosn's claims

Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn answering questions at a news conference in Beirut on Wednesday. He mainly reiterated old assertions, offering little by way of new evidence to support his claims.
Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn answering questions at a news conference in Beirut on Wednesday. He mainly reiterated old assertions, offering little by way of new evidence to support his claims. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Japanese government, prosecutors and Nissan have hit back at fallen auto titan Carlos Ghosn's tirade against Japan's criminal justice system and claims of a corporate conspiracy at a news conference in Lebanon.

The 65-year-old with Lebanese, French and Brazilian citizenship - who is accused of four counts of financial misconduct in Japan - fled Tokyo on Dec 29 and appeared publicly for the first time on Wednesday at a news conference in Beirut which turned into a media circus.

In a spirited but rambling performance, Ghosn mainly reiterated old assertions, giving no details of how he fled and offering little by way of new evidence to support his claims. Still, his improbable getaway has reignited interest in his case and thrust him to the front of the global news cycle.

Humiliated by the escape and concerned by how its justice system is perceived, particularly outside the country, Japan issued quick rebuttals.

Justice Minister Masako Mori said that whatever Ghosn's grievances, running away from a criminal trial was an action that "would not be condoned under any nation's system".

"Each nation's criminal justice system has its roots in its history and culture, being formulated and developed over a long period of time. Therefore, there is no superiority or inferiority among legal systems of different countries," she said, while stressing that Ghosn's propagation of "false information" was "absolutely intolerable".

Ghosn said that he was never going to get a fair trial in Japan, alleging that there was a deliberate smear campaign to paint him as a "cold, cold, greedy dictator".

He cited a conviction rate of 99.4 per cent as proof of inherent prejudice of guilt, adding that he was not above the law and would readily stand trial in any country where he could be assured of fairness.

Ms Mori said: "If defendant Ghosn has anything to say on his criminal case, he should make his argument at a Japanese court and present concrete evidence."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also defended Japan's criminal justice system as one that respects basic human rights with appropriate procedures, saying that Ghosn's claims were "one-sided and completely un-convincing".

Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office deputy chief Takahiro Saito said in a separate statement that Ghosn "has only himself to blame" for his predicament, and that his allegations "completely ignore his own conduct".

"Ghosn was deemed a high flight risk, which is obvious from the fact that he actually fled and illegally departed from the country," Mr Saito said. In doing so, Ghosn forfeited his bail of 1.5 billion yen (S$18.5 million).

Nissan, the company Ghosn rescued from the brink of bankruptcy, also derided his claim that he was a fall guy in a con-spiracy, which extended to the Japanese government, to oust him to avoid deeper ties with Renault, the French automaker, in a motoring alliance.

Ghosn on Wednesday accused high-ranking government officials of being in on the plot, but said he did not want to name anyone in consideration of Lebanon's diplomatic ties with Japan. But he said he did not think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was involved.

Mr Abe reportedly said at a dinner gathering on Wednesday that he had hoped Nissan would be able to deal with the issue internally.

Ghosn pointed the finger at six current and former Nissan executives, including independent director Masakazu Toyoda and his handpicked successor Hiroto Saikawa, for being behind the plot or "coup" to oust him.

"I don't have the time to deal with a one-man show acted out by someone who broke the law by escaping justice," Mr Toyoda said.

Mr Saikawa, who was forced to resign as chief executive over an inflated pay scandal, added: "If that was all he was going to say, he could have just said it in Japan.

"It strongly feels like we have been betrayed by him again," he said. "On what basis is he talking about a coup?"

Slew of legal troubles


Carlos Ghosn paid a penalty of US$1 million (S$1.35 million) over allegations of hidden retirement benefits to settle the civil case brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Sept 23 last year.

He has also been banned from holding a directorial position at any publicly listed US company for 10 years. He did not have to admit or deny wrongdoing under the settlement terms.

Ongoing: JAPAN

Ghosn has jumped bail and fled four criminal charges of financial misconduct. These include allegations of under-reporting his income by 9.1 billion yen (S$112.4 million) over an eight-year period, as well as alleged breach of trust by misappropriating company funds for his own profit.

Japan has asked Interpol to issue a red notice - its highest-level notice - for governments to locate and arrest Ghosn. What this means is that even if he is protected in Lebanon, where he has political connections and is regarded as a national hero, he may not be able to freely visit a third country, which could act on the notice.

Possible action: FRANCE

The French government, which holds a 15 per cent stake in Renault, is probing a €50,000 (S$75,060) Marie Antoinette-themed party at the Versailles Palace, among other suspicious financial expenses flagged by the carmaker which Ghosn headed.

Possible action: LEBANON

Lebanese lawyers have requested that Ghosn be charged for a 2008 visit to Israel, with which Lebanon is at war and is seen as an enemy state. However, Ghosn said on Wednesday that the visit was made in his capacity as the French chief of the Renault-Nissan alliance, and "not as a Lebanese".

Walter Sim

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2020, with the headline Japan and Nissan hit back at Ghosn's claims. Subscribe