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Fugitive Tycoon Ghosn Vows to Clear Name, Hits Out at Japan

Fugitive Tycoon Ghosn Vows to Clear Name, Hits Out at Japan

Wednesday, 8 January, 2020 - 15:30
Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn speaks at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat
Carlos Ghosn, speaking publicly for the first since his dramatic escape from Japanese justice, told reporters in Beirut he had been treated “brutally” by Tokyo prosecutors he accused of conspiring with Nissan to oust him as head of the automaker.

Wearing a blue suit and red tie and speaking defiantly, the one-time titan of the car industry told a packed news conference on Wednesday he would not have faced a fair trial in Japan and would have been tied up in appeals there for five years. The 65-year-old fled Japan last month where he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies.

Ghosn said he had escaped to his childhood home of Lebanon to clear his name. “You are going to die in Japan or you are going to have to get out,” he said, describing his feelings. “I felt like the hostage of a country I served for 17 years,” he told reporters crowded into Lebanon’s seaside Beirut press syndicate.

Others waited outside in heavy rain, including some Japanese media who had been excluded from the briefing.

“The charges against me are baseless,” Ghosn added, repeating his allegation that Nissan and Japanese authorities colluded to oust him following a downturn in Nissan’s fortunes and in revenge for French government interference in the carmaker’s alliance with Renault.

Ghosn named Masakazu Toyoda, an independent director at Nissan and a special adviser to the Japanese Cabinet; Nissan’s ex-auditor Hidetoshi Imazu; and the car company’s former executive vice president Hitoshi Kawaguchi as the main architects of his downfall.

Ghosn declined to name Japanese government officials he said were involved in the plot because he said he didn’t want to embarrass the Lebanese government, but added he did not think the top level of the Japanese government was involved.

Ghosn’s news conference marks the latest twist in a 14-month saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardized the Renault-Nissan alliance of which Ghosn was the mastermind and increased scrutiny of Japan’s judicial system.

In a wide-ranging presentation, Ghosn talked about his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding party at the Palace of Versailles in France and described his confinement in Tokyo’s main jail and the investigation launched against him.

After heated criticism of Japanese prosecutors and a point-by-point rebuttal of their allegations, Ghosn became most animated when describing how he believed the Nissan-Renault alliance had lost its way since his departure, failing to seize opportunities such as a potential tie-up with Fiat-Chrysler and falling behind in crucial success benchmarks like investment in technology, profitability and market value.

The opportunity to tie up with Fiat-Chrysler should have been “unmissable” for Nissan-Renault, Ghosn said, since it would have made the companies more dominant players.

“How do you miss that? It’s unbelievable,” he said.

“They said they wanted to turn the Ghosn page. Well, they have been very successful,” he said, sarcastically. “What we see today is a masquerade of an alliance ... that is not going to go anywhere.”

Nissan has said an internal investigation found that 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 on Thursday.

Japan’s Ministry of Justice has said it will try to find a way to bring Ghosn back from Lebanon, even though it has no extradition treaty with Japan.

“Why have they extended the investigation timeline, why have they rearrested me? Why were they so intent on preventing me from talking and setting out my facts?” Ghosn said of the Japanese authorities.

“Why have they spent 14 months trying to break my spirit, barring any contact with my wife?”

Tokyo prosecutors on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn’s wife, Carole, for alleged perjury related to the misappropriation charge against her husband.

Turkish and Japanese authorities are investigating how Ghosn was smuggled out to Beirut. Interpol has issued a “red notice” seeking his arrest.

After his lengthy statement in English, Ghosn took questions in French, Arabic, Portuguese and English in a raucous news conference that was broadcast in part by several Japanese TV networks.

An hour before the scheduled press conference, a Lebanese prosecutor said Ghosn will be summoned "in the coming hours" over a visit to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Two Lebanese lawyers had submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor´s Office against Ghosn last week, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The two neighboring countries are technically in a state of war. Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury met with the two lawyers who filed the case on Wednesday and asked them to bring additional evidence, adding he would summon Ghosn in the coming hours.

Ghosn visited Israel in 2008 and met officials including the prime minister and the president. At the time he announced the launch of electric cars in Israel.

Tokyo prosecutors struck back at Ghosn on Thursday, saying his allegations of a conspiracy between prosecutors and the automaker were false and that he had failed to justify his acts.

“Carlos Ghosn fled from Japan by acting in a way that could constitute a crime in itself. His statements during his press conference today failed to justify his acts,” the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said in a statement.

It said that his allegation of a conspiracy was “categorically false”, adding that prosecutors were seeking to bring him to justice in Japan.

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