Carlos Ghosn is on the lam, sure, but the former Nissan boss still has a lot to say.
This made for a peculiar affair Wednesday when Ghosn broke his public silence at a marathon news conference in Beirut. Standing behind a lectern and gesturing occasionally before a prepared PowerPoint presentation, Ghosn struck a defiant tone after fleeing house arrest in Japan and escaping to the Lebanese capital late last month.
“There was no way I was going to be treated fairly,” the 65-year-old said. “No sign that I was going to have a normal life for the next four or five years. So I can tell you that, I mean, it’s not very difficult to come to [the] conclusion that you’re going to die in Japan, or you’re going to have to get out.”
The longtime Nissan executive has been credited with reviving the brand and orchestrating a successful “alliance” with other major automakers around the world — including France’s Renault and Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors, both of which he has helmed in various capacities.
But that towering position quickly collapsed in November 2018, when Nissan ousted him amid allegations of financial impropriety. Less than a month later, Japanese authorities formally indicted Ghosn on charges that he underreported his personal earnings — charges that eventually ballooned to include the misappropriation of Nissan funds and a breach of trust.
After several months behind bars, Ghosn was released on bail in March 2019.
Last month, despite close surveillance and an order to surrender his passports, the Brazilian-born executive mounted a shocking — and still rather mysterious — escape from Japan to Beirut, where he spent much of his youth. Once auto industry royalty, Ghosn is now the subject of a wanted notice by Interpol.
Lebanese authorities, who have no extradition agreement with Japan, have suggested they plan to interrogate Ghosn but have committed to nothing further.
Ghosn, meanwhile, declined to go into details about his escape during Wednesday’s news conference — but he remained steadfast in his position that, despite appearances, he does not consider himself a fugitive from the law.
“It is important for me to emphasize that I’m not above the law. And I welcome the opportunity for the truth to come out and to have my name vindicated and my reputation restored. I did not escape justice. I fled injustice and persecution,” he told journalists.
“Having endured more than 400 days of inhumane treatment in a system designed to break me and unwilling to provide me even minimal justice, I was left with no other choice but to protect myself and my family,” he said, adding: “The truth is that justice [is] irrelevant to these individuals. This was the most difficult decision of my life.”
Ghosn pointed to Japan’s remarkably high conviction rate, which stands at more than 99% after indictment, to make the point that he would not have received a fair and speedy trial. And he is not the first to make this point, as his detention has elicited widespread conversation about Japan’s criminal justice system.
Some explain the eye-popping rate as the result of the extraordinary powers ascribed to prosecutors — including the right to subject suspects to marathon interrogations without lawyers present — while others assert it’s more likely because prosecutors are highly selective in choosing their cases.
Whatever the cause may be, Ghosn also said his lawyers had warned him he might have had to wait five years for a final judgment in Japan.
“I have spent the previous months being interrogated for up to eight hours a day without any lawyers present, without an understanding of what exactly I was being accused of, without access to the evidence that justified this travesty against my human rights and dignity,” he said. ” ‘It will get worse for you if you don’t just confess,’ the prosecutor told me repeatedly.”
The Tokyo prosecutors office pushed back on this assertion in a statement issued after Ghosn’s nearly 2 1/2-hour news conference ended.
“Defendant Ghosn’s allegations completely ignore his own conduct,” it notes, “and his one-sided criticism of the Japanese criminal justice system is totally unacceptable.”
One day earlier, with the executive’s planned news conference looming, prosecutors also obtained an arrest warrant for Ghosn’s wife, Carole, for allegedly committing perjury last year. She, too, was on hand in Beirut on Wednesday, watching the news conference amid the throng of journalists.