Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has bared all in a revealing press conference, giving his first public comments since fleeing Japan, where he was being held while awaiting charges for financial misconduct.
Reaffirming his innocence in the strongest possible terms, he said that “these allegations are untrue and I should have never been arrested in the first place”.
He called the events that led to his arrest “a systematic campaign by a handful of malevolent actors” and went on to name individuals, including high-ranking Nissan executives. He also alleged that high-ranking members of the Japanese government were involved but refused to name names.
Ghosn held the frantically organised conference in an undisclosed location in Beirut, Lebanon, eight days after he fled Japan hidden in a private plane. He claimed that he had to do this in order to escape “injustice and political persecution”.
“Escaping Japan was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make," said Ghosn. "But the facts, the truth and justice are irrelevant to these individuals. The only way I will get a fair trial would be to not be in Japan.”
"My choice was between dying in Japan or escaping."
Ghosn went into detail about his treatment during his lengthy detention in a Japanese prison. He described a “tiny cell without a window” and claimed he was only allowed outside for 30 minutes a day on weekdays and only allowed to shower twice a week.
He also claimed he went six days without human contact during the New Year break and was offered a translator only once a week. Prescription medication was also said to be forbidden.
Ghosn described being treated “like a terrorist” during his interrogation, which he said was "designed” to break his spirit.
He said: “I've spent the previous months being interrogated up to eight hours a day with no lawyers present. ‘It will get worse for you if you don’t confess', they say - and this was recorded. ‘If you confess it will be over, and if you don’t confess, we will go after your family’."
Ghosn added that his family – including his wife Carole, for whom the Japanese government has issued an arrest warrant – were subjected to “media attacks orchestrated by Japanese prosecutors and Nissan executives”.
Japanese prosecution is a “system indifferent to truth”
Ghosn railed against the Japanese prosecution team during his hour-long statement to the media, claiming he had no chance of a fair trial when there is a 99.4% conviction rate in Japan’s justice system.
He claimed he was the victim of an “anachronistic and inhuman system of hostage justice” and has yet to be given any idea of a trial date, despite 14 months of detention. Ghosn says his lawyers hinted it could be at least five years before he faces a trial. “I pleaded my innocence," he said. "The feeling of hopelessness was profound."
The prosecution team were accused of breaking the law “at least ten times” during his arrest period, primarily by leaking information to the media.
Ghosn said it was clear during his pre-trial sessions that “the prosecutor was the boss”, despite the presence of three respected judges in the courtroom.
Nissan executives were “petty, vindictive, lawless criminals”
While Ghosn refused to name figures within the Japanese government who conspired with Nissan executives and prosecutors, he did name three senior figures within Nissan. He described them as “unscrupulous and vindictive individuals”, as well as “petty, vindictive, lawless criminals”.
“The collusion between Nissan and the prosecutors is everywhere; the only people who don’t see this are, perhaps, people in Japan,” he said.
Ghosn hypothesised multiple reasons why his former company would conspire against him, including Nissan’s declining market performance in 2017 and 2018 and anger in Japan that Renault, with backing from the French state, had more voting rights over decisions to more closely link the three Alliance companies: Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
By becoming chairman of the board at Mitsubishi in 2016, he decided to remove himself from the daily operation at Nissan in 2017 while remaining chairman. Hiroto Saikawa, one of the individuals Ghosn continually referred to in a negative light during the conference, took over the role, but it's alleged that executives continued to pin Nissan’s poor performance on Ghosn.
“Bitterness” from Japanese executives meant “they thought the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault on Nissan was to get rid of me", said Ghosn. "They thought it would give them much more autonomy at Nissan.”
Ghosn claims he has all the evidence and all the documents to prove his innocence of the charges – which include underreporting his income and transferring personal investment losses – with his lawyers. “All my bank accounts have been swept," he said, "so if there was any payment, it would be front page news of the Nikkei.”
"Why is Japan repaying me with evil for the good I have done for this country?"
Ghosn went on to discuss how he was treated by the media, claiming it painted him as a “cold, greedy dictator” who hates Japan.
“I like Japan, I like the people of Japan," he countered. "I had my kids educated in Japan, I refused to abandon Nissan.”
He also claimed that he isn't greedy, because he turned down an offer in 2009 to become the head of General Motors for “double the money” of leading Nissan. “The captain of a ship doesn’t leave when it's in difficulty," he said, citing Nissan's struggles during this period.
Ghosn also described it as "unbelieveable" that the proposed Alliance merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, of which Ghosn laid the foundations, never happened.
He said: "The alliance missed the unmissable, which is Fiat Chrysler. That is unbelievable, they go with PSA. How can you miss that huge opportunity to become the dominant player in the industry?"
Further statements included Ghosn expressing how much the Alliance brands have suffered financially since his arrest.
"The market cap decrease of Nissan is more than $10 billion [£7.63bn] since my arrest," he said. "The market cap of Renault went down by €5bn [£4.24bn] since my arrest. The only companies which went down in market cap since this has happened have been Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi. What a coincidence."
Also read: Nissan to continue legal action against Carlos Ghosn