Carlos Ghosn: Ex-Nissan boss flees Japan for Lebanon


Carlos Ghosn: Ex-Nissan boss flees Japan for Lebanon

“I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan’s legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold,” Ghosn said in a statement.

“I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.”

One of Ghosn’s Japanese lawyers said they were still holding his Lebanese, French and Brazilian passports, as required by the terms of his bail, and called his actions “inexcusable.”

“We don’t know any more than has been reported,” Junichiro Hironaka told reporters, in remarks broadcast by NHK. “It was like a bolt from the blue. We are surprised and puzzled.”

Ghosn’s treatment since his arrest in November 2018 has thrown an unflattering spotlight on Japan’s justice system, and prompted concerns in boardrooms around the world. Sympathy was high among the general public in Lebanon, and its government had complained publicly about Ghosn’s humiliating treatment behind bars.

Ghosn, one of the world’s most successful and charismatic auto executives, was accused of financial misconduct and underreporting his income. But his initial 23-day detention was extended to 108 days as prosecutors rearrested him several times while he was still behind bars, a common tactic used in Japan to extract confessions and widely criticized as amounting to “hostage justice.”

He was released in March, then rearrested again in April just after announcing plans to hold a news conference, before finally being granted bail under strict conditions, including that he not speak to his wife. Writing in The Washington Post in April, Carole Ghosn said her husband had been kept in solitary confinement, with the lights on around the clock, and subjected to interrogation at all hours of the night and day without access to his lawyers.

The case prompted questions about whether a Japanese executive would have faced the same treatment, and why Ghosn and U.S. citizen Greg Kelly were the only Nissan board members arrested, when the company’s Japanese executives should also have known about Ghosn’s compensation arrangements.

Ghosn and his lawyers say the allegations were trumped up as part of a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to oust Ghosn and block his plans to force through a closer merger between the Japanese automaker and its alliance partner, Renault.

Equally, though, there have been concerns raised about Ghosn’s management.

In dismissing Ghosn in 2018, Nissan said its investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary to transferring $5 million of company funds to an account in which he had an interest.

Renault, initially supportive of its former boss, announced in April after an internal investigation that it had found evidence of “questionable and concealed practices and violations of the group’s ethical principles.” At the time, Renault said it would halt Ghosn’s pension and reserved the right to bring action against him in the courts.

Ghosn earned a reputation as one of the auto industry’s top executives after turning around the fortunes of Renault and Nissan and bringing the two companies together in a three-way alliance with Mitsubishi.

But his efforts to forge closer links between Renault and Nissan ran into opposition from within the Japanese company, and many experts say that may have been a factor in his downfall.

His reputation for streamlining Renault’s operations won him the nickname “Le Cost Killer,” while his success in turning Nissan around from near bankruptcy earned him the moniker “Mr. Fix It.” His efforts made him enormously popular in Japan, with blanket media coverage and even a manga comic produced about his life. However, his lavish lifestyle and relatively high pay were sources of controversy.

Inevitably, there was intense speculation about how Ghosn could have left the country without the authorities’ knowledge.

Japanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Keisuke Suzuki visited Beirut earlier this month where he met with the Lebanese president and foreign minister.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was still “looking into the matter to ascertain the status of affairs” and could not comment at the moment. A senior official told NHK that the ministry was not aware of Ghosn’s departure.

“Had we known about it prior to his departure, we would have reported that to the legal authorities,” the official was quoted as saying.

Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan, and given public support for Ghosn there it is unlikely any attempt to extradite him would be successful.

Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

simon.denyer@washpost.com


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