Former Nissan boss-turned-international fugitive Carlos Ghosn ripped into Japan’s judicial system and his former company of 17 years on Wednesday. The former corporate titan said he was subjected to inhumane prison conditions in Japan, which he accuses of fabricating charges against him to destroy his reputation.
“I can tell you, it’s not very difficult to come to a conclusion you’re going to die in Japan or you have to get out,” Ghosn told reporters during a news conference in Beirut – his first public appearance since he fled Japan last month where he faces trial for alleged financial misconduct.
“This was not justice; I felt I was [a] hostage of a country that I have served for 17 years,” he said.
Ghosn’s shock escape reportedly involved former special forces operatives, a bullet train, and two private jets, one of which he was smuggled onto inside a box designed for musical equipment. Ghosn told reporters he would not comment on his exit from Japan because it may put people at risk, but said he was “left with no choice” other than to jump bail.
“It was a difficult decision, and a risk one only takes if resigned to the impossibility of a fair trial … let’s not forget I was facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 percent,” he said.
Over approximately two hours, Ghosn tackled the accusations levelled against him by Tokyo prosecutors and Nissan, dismissing allegations he had understated his pay over many years.
He characterised allegations that he misappropriated Nissan company funds and property as an attempt at “character assassination”, and revealed a document which he said proved Nissan executives had known about his use of residences in Beirut and Rio de Janeiro. The two residences have been at the centre of reports of misappropriation.
Nissan said in a statement earlier this week that it had “discovered numerous acts of misconduct by Ghosn through a robust, thorough internal investigation”, including “misstatement of his compensation and misappropriation of the company’s assets for his personal benefit”.
In a particularly explosive part of the news conference, Ghosn named specific members of the Tokyo prosecutors office and Nissan, whom he said had collaborated to fabricate the charges against him.
He also claimed that Japanese officials were involved but said he would refrain from naming them to avoid fomenting conflict between Japan and Lebanon.
Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori fired back at Ghosn’s comments, repeating that his escape from his trial in itself “could constitute a crime”.
“Such action would not be condoned under any nation’s system,” Mori said. “Furthermore, he has been propagating both within Japan and internationally false information on Japan’s legal system and its practice. That is absolutely intolerable.”
Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday, seeking “greater cooperation” on the Ghosn affair “in order to avoid negative repercussions on our friendly relations”.
The former Nissan boss also detailed his prison conditions: A tiny cell with no window, a light left on day and night, a limit of two showers per week, and only 30 minutes of time outside the cell every day – excluding weekends and holidays.
Particularly poignant were his descriptions of isolation including: “Six days with no human contact during the new year’s break,” and being prevented from seeing his wife – a ban he said had left him feeling “not human anymore”.
Ghosn said the conditions of detention, coupled with the slow pace of legal proceedings against him, denied him the basic human right to a quick and fair trial.
‘Proud to be Lebanese’
The fallen business magnate, who has Lebanese, Brazilian and French citizenship, began his news conference by saying he was “proud to be Lebanese”, a statement that drew applause from some of those gathered.
Ghosn is viewed by many in Lebanon as an embodiment of the success of the country’s large diaspora.
In response to a question from a Lebanese reporter, Ghosn said he was ready to put his expertise at the disposal of Lebanon as it deals with its worst economic and financial crisis in a generation. Ghosn also thanked Lebanese authorities for assisting him during his detention in Japan, which included frequent visits by Lebanon’s ambassador there.
“They show me that, for a small country, they have a big soul, a big heart, and a true sense of rightfulness,” said Ghosn.
But the former Nissan boss’s high-flying arrival in Lebanon at a time of continuing protests against a ruling elite seen as corrupt has been met with mixed reactions on the streets.
Protester Sleiman Haroun, a 25-year-old mechanic, told Al Jazeera earlier this week that the manner of Ghosn’s arrival in Lebanon necessitated cooperation with high-ranking officials – evidence he said politicians will go out of their way to assist people within their own privileged class while leaving middle and low-income classes “to sort themselves out”.
“Ghosn is one of them,” Haroun said from the main protest encampment in downtown Beirut, referencing a popular protest slogan.
Ghosn is not done with judicial investigations yet. As he gave his news conference, the state-run National News Agency reported that Lebanon’s State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat had summoned Ghosn for questioning on Thursday over a Red Notice for his arrest issued by Interpol, and over past meetings Ghosn has held with Israeli officials.
Lebanon remains officially at war with Israel, and it is illegal for any Lebanese citizens to meet with Israelis. Ghosn has travelled to Israel at least once, in 2008, when he met with then-Israeli President Shimon Perez.
“I didn’t go as a Lebanese citizen, I went as CEO and by the demand of Renault,” Ghosn said Wednesday. “I went to sign a contract and came back, and I won’t hide it. I spoke with Lebanese officials, and I’ve been coming to Lebanon since then, and nothing happened.”
Throughout the news conference, Ghosn appeared confident and relaxed, if at times somewhat animated over the injustices he claims to have suffered. He had arrived on stage a few minutes before the hotly-anticipated news conference was set to begin, and was seen speaking with a burly bodyguard who stood beside the podium.
Then he greeted several people, kissing them on both cheeks and taking pictures with them.
Ghosn’s last attempt at a news conference in April 2019 had not gone as planned. After being released on bail in March 2019, he had set a date for the highly-anticipated event but was rearrested before it could take place.
In a pre-recorded video posted online at the time by his legal team, Ghosn made similar claims: His arrest was the result of a conspiracy led by Nissan executives who were looking out for their own personal interests rather than those of the company.
He had ended the video on a prescient note, a slight smile briefly crossing his face as he said: “I’m sorry I was not able to share more with you and respond to many questions you have on your mind. But hopefully, we will do it at a certain point in time.”
Source: Al Jazeera