Carlos Ghosn likens arrest to Pearl Harbor as he faces media

Runaway former Nissan chair says he is victim of ‘inhumane system of hostage justice’

The former Renault-Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn likened his arrest by Japanese prosecutors to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor as he spoke publicly for the first time since his audacious escape from Japan.

In an animated presentation to the global media in Beirut on Wednesday, Ghosn said his prosecution on charges of financial misconduct was politically motivated, the result of an elaborate conspiracy involving “malevolent” Nissan executives and even the Japanese government.

The erstwhile giant of the automotive world said he loved Japan and its people but that the country’s authorities were “repaying me with evil” because he was an easy target as a foreigner.

Ghosn refused to address speculation that his escape from strict bail conditions on 29 December involved taking a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka’s Kansai airport, being whisked through security while hidden inside a large audio equipment case and boarding a private jet to Turkey and on to Lebanon.

But he insisted he was innocent of the charges brought by Japanese prosecutors, who following his initial arrest in November 2018 have accused him of underreporting $80m (£61m) of income and misusing company funds allegedly transferred into the account of a company owned by him.

“I didn’t run from justice, I want justice,” he said, adding that Japan’s justice system was “rigged”.

The 65-year-old could still face legal difficulties in Lebanon, after Interpol issue a “red notice” to the Middle Eastern country officially alerting Beirut to his fugitive status and the allegations against him. Officials are also understood to be keen to question him about previous visits to Israel, which Beirut classifies as an enemy state.

(November 19, 2018) 

Ghosn is arrested by Japanese police at a Tokyo airport upon arrival in his private jet. This follows the arrest hours before of Nissan board member Greg Kelly, a key ally of Ghosn’s. Both are sent to a detention centre in Tokyo. Nissan and Mitsubishi say they will both remove Ghosn as chairman.

(November 26, 2018) 

Misubishi sacks Ghosn as chairman, following a similar move by Nissan.

(December 10, 2018) 

Prosecutors add to the charges against Ghosn and Kelly, who are accused of underreporting Ghosn’s income over five years to 2015. They are are rearrested on allegations of understating Ghosn’s income for three more years to March 2018.

(December 13, 2018) 

Renault initially decides to retain Ghosn as chairman and chief executive after finding no irregularities in his pay packages.

(December 21, 2018) 

Ghosn is re-arrested on allegations of aggravated breach of trust, accused of shifting personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008. The legal team for Kelly, who suffers from spinal stenosis and needs surgery, requests his release on bail, which is granted on 24 December after he pays 70 million yen (£507,025) in cash.

(January 8, 2019) 

Ghosn proclaims his innocence during a court hearing, his first public appearance following his arrest. A judge says his continued detention is necessary due to flight risk and the possibility he could conceal evidence.

(January 18, 2019) 

Nissan and Mitsubishi accuse Ghosn of receiving €7.8m (£6.9m) in “improper payments” from a joint venture between the Japanese carmakers.

(January 24, 2019) 

Renault appoints Jean-Dominique Senard as chairman and Thierry Bolloré as chief executive after Ghosn resigns from both roles.

(January 30, 2019) 

Ghosn accuses Nissan executives of a plot to oust him and prevent closer ties with Renault, in his first interview since his arrest in November.

(February 13, 2019) 

Renault’s board of directors votes unanimously to strip Ghosn of up to €30m (£26m) in pay and severance.

(March 6, 2019) 

Ghosn is released on bail and must live under strict bail conditions in Tokyo until his trial begins. His lawyer Motonari Otsuru quits.

(April 5, 2019) 

Ghosn is re-arrested.

(April 8, 2019) 

Nissan shareholders sack Ghosn from the company board and replace him with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. A day later Ghosn accuses Nissan executives of conspiring against him in a video.

(April 11, 2019) 

Ghosn’s lawyers condemn his latest arrest as “inhuman”, saying that it has interrupted the former Nissan chairman’s treatment for chronic kidney failure.

(April 25, 2019) 

A court in Japan grants $4.5m bail to Ghosn but he must stay in Japan and is not allowed to meet his wife, Carole, without the court’s permission.

(December 31, 2019) 

Ghosn flees court-imposed bail ahead of his trial and arrives in Lebanon. He issues a statement in which he says he will “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed”. His escape is believed to have involved him being hidden in a musical instrument case that was then flown out of the country.

Julia Kollewe

During a two-and-a-half-hour press conference, Ghosn told a packed room that he had been a victim of an “anachronistic and inhumane system of hostage justice”, pointing to a 99.4% conviction rate in Japan’s justice system.

“It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that you’re going to die in Japan, or you’re going to have to get out,” he said. “I did not escape justice, I fled injustice and political persecution.

“I was left with no other choice but to protect myself and my family. A risk one only takes if resigned to the impossibility of a fair trial.”

He accused Nissan executives in Japan of colluding with prosecutors and the government in a “systematic campaign by a handful of malevolent actors to destroy my reputation and impugn my character”.

The reason for the alleged conspiracy, he said, was Nissan’s declining performance, combined with anger in Japan that Renault, backed by the French state, had greater voting rights in the alliance between the two carmakers.

“Some of our Japanese friends thought the only way to get rid of Nissan influence [by] Renault is to get rid of me.”

He named three executives on the Nissan board whom he said were “petty, vindictive and lawless” individuals, and said that both prosecutors and the company had evidence that might exonerate him. The Guardian has approached Nissan for comment.

In a comparison certain to enrage commentators in Japan, he likened his surprise arrest to the ambush of the US naval base Pearl Harbor in the second world war. “I didn’t suspect anything … did you see Pearl Harbor happening?”

Describing the personal impact of his arrest, he said: “I was brutally taken from my world as I knew it, ripped from my family, my friends, my communities.”

Ghosn claimed he had been seen as a “role model” in Japan for 17 years before he was thrown in jail, where he said he had been kept in solitary confinement in a cell that was lit day and night, interrogated for eight hours a day without a lawyer, and denied showers and prescription medication.

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“It will get worse for you if you don’t just confess, the prosecutor told me repeatedly,” Ghosn said.

“If you don’t confess, not only will we go after you, we’ll go after your family,” he claimed to have been told. “These allegations are untrue and I should never have been arrested in the first place.”

Japan’s justice minister, Masako Mori, later issued a statement defending the system against Ghosn’s claim and emphasised the country’s low crime rate.

Mori also accused Ghosn of “propagating … false information on Japan’s legal system and its practice. That is absolutely intolerable.”

She called on Ghosn to return to Japan to face prosecution and said Tokyo would “take all available measures” to secure his return. Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.

Ghosn said he did not want to give details of his escape, despite widespread interest in reports of an elaborate and complex plan to smuggle him out of the country.

But in an echo of that escape, he appeared to wrongfoot the waiting media in Beirut in order to slip into his press conference as quietly as he left Japan. The arrival of two black Toyota Land Cruisers at about 3pm caused a flurry of excitement – until what appeared to be a group of private security officers emerged. Ghosn had appeared to use the temporary rush to enter the building unseen through a side entrance, and turned up in the conference room a few moments later.

The Brazil-born businessman, who also has both French and Lebanese citizenship, said he believed he would be able to clear his name in due course.

“You can expect me to take some initiative to tell you how I’m going to clear my name, what kind of forum I’m going to use,” he said.


Rob Davies and Michael Safi in Beirut

The GuardianTramp

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