The former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has shed new details on his daring escape from Japan while under close surveillance in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.
Ghosn attracted international attention after he fled Japan, where prosecutors were investigating him for financial irregularities while CEO of Nissan, reportedly being smuggled out of the country inside a box intended to transfer musical instruments despite being under strict surveillance from authorities.
“My phone was monitored; there were cameras everywhere; I was being watched all the time, there could be monitors that I had not spotted... I built a system where I managed to talk to people out of Japan and figure it all out,” said Ghosn, speaking to Al Arabiya’s Taher Barakeh.
“I made the entire plan of how to get out, but I needed information and assistance,” he explained.
In a wide-ranging interview, Ghosn also discussed his achievements as head of Nissan, the Japanese government’s allegations against him and the subsequent Interpol warrant for his arrest, and the Lebanese government’s support for him once he arrived in the country.
Japanese ‘conspiracy’ against him
Ghosn again denied the allegations against him, saying that there was a “conspiracy” against him motivated by his push to create greater synergy between Nissan and its partner, French carmaker Renault.
“They were afraid of an alliance between Renault and Nissan. They know that I was the only person who could do that because I am accredited by Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi,” he said.
Ghosn said that the Japanese prosecution service was rigged against foreigners, claiming he would not have had a fair trial because the prosecution wins 99.4 percent of its cases.
“I did not escape Japan because of fear of justice. I left it because I was taken as hostage. They wanted me to confess what I haven’t done or know of. It was conspiracy,” he said.
Ghosn has been accused of under-reporting his earnings at Nissan, misappropriating funds, using company funds for personal purposes, and misrepresenting the company’s investments among other financial charges.
He rejected all of these accusations, describing them as “all wrong.”
From “Samurai” to “dictator”
Ghosn said that he had been considered a hero “samurai” in Japan until his recent fall and described his achievements in his previous role.
“They went from seeing me as a samurai to a dictator overnight,” he said, claiming that his achievements during his 17 years of work for Nissan had made him a “hero” in Japan until the allegations surfaced.
“I took over a dead company in 1999 in Japan, and I don’t speak their language. After they had failed to recover the company twice, they gave up. In 1999, the company sold 2.5 million cars per year and lost money. It had 20 billion USD in debt, and not a single Japanese bank would offer them loans. When I left the company in 2017, it had made profit throughout all my years of working there, with one exception in 2009 with the worldwide financial recession. I left it with 20 billion dollars in profit, and instead of selling 2.5 million cars, the company was selling 5.8 million cars. What more do you want? That’s how I became a hero,” he said.
“Accomplishments are what make a good reputation. From 2018, they were started to deteriorate,” he added.
Ghosn also claimed that the Japanese “opposition” had defended his case and criticized the “hostage justice” used by the government.
“The opposition does not agree to what they call hostage justice. Many defended my case based on that. A Japanese opposition member actually told me he is ashamed of the fact that Japan treated me in an evil way after all the good things I contributed,” he said.
Praises Lebanon, criticizes France
Ghosn, who is a joint Lebanese-French-Brazilian national, praised the Lebanese government for its support and criticized France for treating him as a “second class citizen.”
Lebanon’s president said that Ghosn had entered the country illegally and has refused to extradite him to Japan. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
Ghosn said that although French former President Nicholas Sarkozy had visited him in Japan, the French government had treated him as an ordinary citizen and not taken into account his role as “a president of a major company in France.”
“It is a negative point I take against France. The only government that stood by my side was Lebanon. They did everything they could do and interfered and questioned Japan’s case. Even if their accusations were true, there should be better means of communication. The Lebanese government raised a lot of questions, while France treated me just like any other French citizen,” he said.
Ghosn added that he had chosen Lebanon because he wants to retire there, and because his wife Carole is Lebanese. He is reportedly living in the affluent Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh and said that he does not fear for his status in Lebanon.
“I don’t need to protect myself in Lebanon. I don’t think the Lebanese government is against me,” he said, explaining that the Lebanese government had requested Ghosn’s case file from Japan six months ago but had still not received it.
“I do not consider myself held prisoner in Lebanon,” he said.
Japan wants to conduct Ghosn's trial
Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon Takeshi Okubo also spoke about Ghosn's case to Al Arabiya. He reiterated how the Japanese government notified its Lebanese counterpart of Ghosn's "illegal" escape and that Tokyo could not accept that.
"We demanded – on several occasions – that the Lebanese government provides the necessary cooperation including revealing details in the case that the Japanese government is highly interested in," he said.
The Japanese ambassador said that Lebanon's President Michel Aoun would "fully cooperate in this matter," and stressed that it is "normal" for Ghosn to "be tried under the Japanese justice system."
He added: "Mr. Carlos Ghosn continues to spread propaganda and false information about the Japanese criminal justice system and how to activate it. This is completely unacceptable."
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