“These allegations are untrue, and I should never have been arrested in the first place,” he said at a packed news conference in Beirut. “I’m here to clear my name.”
Ghosn complained of a “systematic campaign by a handful of malevolent actors to destroy my reputation and impugn my character” because of his plans to deepen the alliance between Nissan and Renault. He also denounced his detention under a “corrupt and hostile system that presumed my guilt from Day One.”
But Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori said Ghosn was propagating false information about Japan’s justice system and warned that his decision to run away from a criminal trial could be a crime in itself.
Ghosn says that after his arrest in November 2018, he was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell for 130 days, while being allowed outside for only half an hour a day and only on weekdays. He says he was “interrogated day and night,” sometimes for up to eight hours at a time, without a lawyer present, while lights were left on round-the-clock.
The system was “anachronistic and inhumane,” he said. “It’s not very difficult to come to the conclusion that you’re going to die in Japan or you have to get out.”
Experts say Japan’s legal system allows prosecutors to detain people without charge and subject them to relentless interrogation without the presence of defense counsel until they confess or incriminate themselves, a system that critics say amounts to “hostage justice.”
Suspects must be indicted or freed within 23 days, but Ghosn was simply rearrested on slightly different charges to prolong his detention for more 100 days. He was then released on bail, only to be rearrested when he threatened to hold a news conference inside Japan.
The whole case, he said, was cooked up between Nissan, the Japanese government and prosecutors to prevent closer relations between the Japanese automotive giant and French partner Renault.
“Some of our Japanese friends thought the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault over Nissan was to get rid of me, and, unfortunately, they were right,” he said. “The collusion between Nissan and prosecutors is everywhere. The only people who don’t see it, maybe, are the people in Japan.”
Ghosn named executives in Nissan who he alleged were involved in the plot to bring him down, but he said he would not name the Japanese government officials involved out of respect for the Lebanese government’s good relations with Japan. But he said he did not think Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was involved.
Ghosn was charged with underreporting his income and diverting company funds for his own benefit. But he said that the income had never been paid to him and that the final amount had not even been decided.
Despite his protestations of innocence, Nissan and the Japanese government are not his only accusers. Renault, initially supportive, said its investigation found evidence of unethical practices. It ousted Ghosn and canceled his pension.
In September, Ghosn paid the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission $1 million to settle fraud charges for failing to disclose $140 million to be paid to him in retirement. Under that deal, Nissan had to pay a $15 million penalty. The car company and Ghosn neither admitted nor denied the charges.
Tokyo’s deputy chief prosecutor said that Ghosn had “only himself to blame” for his detention and that his allegations “completely ignore his own conduct.”
Through their investigation, prosecutors had collected sufficient evidence to conclude that there was a high probability of a conviction, Takahiro Saito said in a statement, adding that the allegations of a conspiracy were “categorically false and completely contrary to fact.”
Nevertheless, many legal experts share Ghosn’s concerns about Japan’s justice system, while many foreign business executives say it is unthinkable that powerful, well-connected Japanese businesspeople would have faced similar treatment by the country’s legal system.
Ghosn said his trial was being “constantly postponed,” adding that he learned Dec. 25 that a second trial on some of the charges would not start before 2021 at the earliest, at the prosecutor’s request.
“They knew I love Carole, and she’s a pillar for me,” he said. “Because they know all of this, they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to put him on his knees — we’re going to cut him from his wife.’ ”
Over time, he said, it became clear that he had no chance of a fair trial in Japan and “no horizon” to see his wife, forcing him to flee to Lebanon.
“I said: ‘What is left? What is left?’ I had to leave,” he said.
Ghosn, who answered questions in English, French, Arabic and Portuguese, said he had been portrayed in Japan as a cold, greedy dictator, with sections of the media uncritically reporting information leaked from the prosecutor’s office. That, he said, was why many Japanese media outlets were not allowed to attend his news conference, although some were present.
“Why Japan is paying me with evil for the good I think I have done to the country? I don’t understand this,” he said. “I know the people of Japan aren’t like this.”
Sly and Khattab reported from Beirut. Paul Schemm in Dubai and Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo contributed to this report.