Former CEO refuses to divulge details about his escape from Japan in order to spare those who helped him.
In a two-and-a-half-hour press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Renault and Nissan, has given a full-throated defence against the charges he was facing in Japan.
Starting with an hour-long monologue to a packed conference room, Ghosn said he was detained in an “inhumane system of hostage justice” with a 99.4 per cent conviction rate.
He likened his surprise arrest to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, and stated the “allegations are untrue and I should never have been arrested in the first place”.
Presenting documents signed by other executives, including Hiroto Saikawa, his successor as Nissan’s CEO, Ghosn sought to debunk the charges against him, including underreporting his income and misappropriating funds.
After his arrest on November 18, 2018, Ghosn said he was held for around 130 days in solitary confinement. The lights were on all the time, he could be interrogated for up to eight hours a day without a lawyer present, and he was allowed out for only 30 minutes per weekday.
The former CEO believes he was arrested as part of a plot or conspiracy involving executives at Nissan and some parts of the Japanese government, although he doesn’t think “the top level” of the country’s leadership, including Prime Minister Abe, are involved.
Motivating the alleged plotters was Renault’s influence over the Japanese automaker, and a fear the two companies would be merged.
“Some of my Japanese friends thought that the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault on Nissan, was to get rid of me,” Ghosn said.
Ghosn admitted he working towards more tightly integrating the French and Japanese firms, and said he proposed a structure which would walk the line between the desires of the two automakers. In it there would be a holding company with one board overseeing both brands, but separate headquarters and executives, granting Nissan’s desire for more autonomy.
Given he is a citizen of three countries (Lebanon, France and Brazil) which don’t have an extradition treaty with Japan, he now feels free to speak his mind and fight back against a “character assassination”, which has turned him from being a “role model” into a “cold, greedy dictator”.
During his long press conference, Ghosn expressed just three moments of regret. The first being he didn’t take the job of CEO of General Motors when it was offered to him in 2009 by Steve Ratner, the man who ran President Obama’s managed bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.
In an attempt to refute accusations of his greed in Japan, he said he turned down the opportunity to double his pay packet because of loyalty to the company he revived.
He also said he was “damn wrong” about nominating certain people within Nissan, and not retiring from Renault and Nissan in 2018 like he had initially planned.
During the question and answer session, Ghosn said he resolved to leave Japan when he “lost any hope of a fair trial”. He stated he “felt like the hostage of a country I served for 17 years”, and believed he was either going to die in Japan or get out.
Unlike other developed countries, Ghosn says the judge was not in control of the trial, instead it was prosecutors who ran the show.
At a court session on December 25, the judge said prosecutors were unable to handle two trials simultaneously, therefore Ghosn’s second trial would be delayed until 2021.
The prospect of spending at least the next five years caught up in legal battles, likely appeals and trips to the Supreme Court, as well as a court-imposed separation from his wife, “put me on my knees”.
Ghosn laughed off multiple attempts from journalists to find out more details about his escape from Japan, which now reportedly includes walking out of his house to meet two former US military personnel, a bullet train ride to Osaka, and a trip in an oversize audio equipment case to past security and get on-board a private jet bound for Turkey and then Lebanon.
The former executive repeatedly stated he “left Japan because [he] wanted justice”, and promised to provide more details about where and how he would seek it in the coming weeks.
Mergers, acquisitions and dictatorships
Prior to his arrest in November 2018, Ghosn said he was working on an alliance with Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Thanks to a “very good dialogue” with FCA chairman John Elkann, there were more meetings lined up, but they never took place because of his arrest.
Last year, Renault and FCA announced their desire to merge, but this was called off as the French government wanted to gain Nissan’s approval for such a deal.
Ghosn became quite animated as he stated it was “unbelievable” Renault would “miss that opportunity to become the dominant player in the industry”.
Although he refused to state how he would attempt to fix the current situation at Renault, Nissan and the Alliance, Ghosn said the Alliance can work without him, but the current desire for consensus will not succeed.
Ghosn outlines ‘conspiracy’, admits to working on alliance with FCA