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Ghosn savages accusers in first public address

Arguably the world's most notorious fugitive has held a press conference. It lived up to its billing

By Matt Bird / Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Those bored this Wednesday lunchtime could have done a lot worse than watch Carlos Ghosn's press conference live from Beirut. You'll doubtless be well aware by now that he fled to Lebanon over the Christmas period, allegedly stuffed in an instrument case, evading the Japanese authorities that first arrested him towards the end of 2018. Today was Ghosn's first appearance in public since then, more than an hour on stage telling the assembled press and thousands watching online his version of events.

It didn't detail that audacious escape, other than to say he "fled injustice and persecution", but it was a fascinating 60 minutes or so, nonetheless. Ghosn spoke of his treatment as a "travesty" against his human rights, how the Japanese judicial system "violates principles of humanity" and of the "systematic campaign" levelled against him by colleagues and prosecutors. You expected something meek and objective? The accusations were "baseless", with "malevolent actors" employing a "systematic leaking of false information" to secure his arrest, according to him. It was an impassioned, emotional, occasionally quite bizarre speech from a man at the centre of an incredible scandal.

Of the most significant accusation against him, that of misreported pay, Ghosn is - entirely unsurprisingly - defiant: there was no misreporting because there was no compensation. "It was not decided [by the board], not fixed, not paid", said Ghosn, who mentioned collusion between former colleagues and the Japanese authorities leading to his arrest.

Stood in front of a wall of projected statements and agreements not unlike a school presentation, Ghosn spoke about pretty much everything that's been under scrutiny for the past 14 months. Apparently the use of the Versailles Palace for a birthday party didn't incur any cost to the company, and the properties he used when CEO in Beirut and Rio were the property of the alliance. Ghosn wanted to speak with "facts, data and innocence" about his alleged wrongdoing, and maintains that he is a victim of a concerted effort to oust him.

Of these "unscrupulous, vindictive individuals" at Nissan, Ghosn believes they were wary of the increased Renault influence on the alliance, the irreversible steps that were being taken; particularly so with the French government as a Renault shareholder and with increased voting rights compared to Nissan, despite an identical stake. As the Frenchman sees it, Nissan saw Ghosn's removal as the way to Renault exerting less influence over alliance decisions. "And the Japanese were right" reckons the former CEO, with Nissan now enjoying more autonomy and the alliance nothing more than a "masquerade". As for why the Fiat-Chrysler mega-merger fell through, he describes it as "unbelievable".

Ghosn has never been short of a word or two to say, and this lecture on his innocence is must-see for anyone interested in the case. Nobody comes out of it well, unsurprisingly: the Japanese authorities, for a "corrupt and hostile" prosecution, his former colleagues for a "smear campaign" against him after 17 years at the head of Nissan, taking a "dead company" to profitability and recognition, or the media for how the case has been reported. That's before he discusses Japan as a whole, how as a gaijin - yes, he used the phrase we all know from Tokyo Drift - he has loved the country and become part of it, only for the public to turn its back on him after these accusations. It's going to make for quite the docu series.

As for the more serious matter of Ghosn fleeing Japan, Reuters is reporting that a 'red notice' has been issued by Interpol for his arrest, with authorities investigating how the heck he actually managed to pull it off. This amazing saga is not done yet, not by a long chalk. Expect more - quite a lot more, if that press conference was anything to go by - from Mr Ghosn, as well as those trying to track him down.


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