Closed Carlos Ghosn hits out at ‘rigged’ Japanese justice system — as it happened

Ghosn_Gesticulating

Live coverage of Carlos Ghosn’s first press conference since dramatic exit from Japan.


Welcome along

Carlos Ghosn is this afternoon due to host his first press conference since his Hollywoodesque escape from custody in Japan.

Mr Ghosn, the former chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, last week jumped bail in Tokyo – where he was charged with four counts of financial misconduct – and fled to Lebanon.

Addressing reporters later today, he says he will provide evidence of a plot to topple him and allege that Nissan executives wanted to prevent him from pushing through a full merger of the Japanese carmaker with Renault.

We will be following Mr Ghosn’s comments and the reaction to them from 1pm. But before that, we will be bringing you some of the FT’s best pieces on the drama surrounding Mr Ghosn’s fall from grace and his dramatic escape.

Follow along here…


Issues for Carlos Ghosn ahead of press conference

Ahead of Carlos Ghosn’s highly anticipated press conference with world media this afternoon, the FT’s Leo Lewis, Kana Inagaki and Peter Campbell, have taken a look at some of the issues likely to be raised.

Issue 1

Mr Ghosn had agreed to pay $1m to settle fraud charges with the US Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations that he hid more than $140m of his pay package at Nissan by not declaring deferred compensation that he was set to receive after retirement. Mr Ghosn neither admitted nor denied the charges. Even if the practice were legal, why did he choose to defer part of his salary?

Issue 2

In 20 years running a Japanese company and engaging with Japanese advisers, lawyers and executives, was he ever warned that the justice system could be weaponised against him? If, as Mr Ghosn has said, there is a double standard, who does he believe should have been arrested along with him?

Issue 3

The rescue of Nissan from near-bankruptcy in 1999 and stewardship of the company and its alliance with Renault over nearly two decades have been held up as proof of Mr Ghosn’s management excellence. If he was planning a Renault-Nissan merger, why was he unable to convince the company he had run for so long that it was in its interests?

Issue 4

Mr Ghosn has blamed his downfall on a co-ordinated plot between Nissan, prosecutors and the Japanese government to block his efforts to merge the Japanese carmaker with its French partner. Will he provide evidence of a Japanese government official agreeing to help Nissan to bring him down?

Issue 5

In 2014, Mr Ghosn and his wife Carole hosted a lavish party at Versailles to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Renault-Nissan alliance. Why did no senior executives of Nissan and only two top Renault executives attend the €635,000 event? Is there any justification for this lavish spending?

For more on this, check out Leo, Kana and Peter’s full piece here


Why Carlos Ghosn chose the life of a fugitive

Carlos Ghosn’s miraculous disappearing act has reverberated from Tokyo to Beirut, provoking dozens of theories over its mechanics, write Leo Lewis, Kana Inagaki and Peter Campbell.

But it has also left bigger questions of cost: to Mr Ghosn, to his legal team in Tokyo, to Japan’s justice system, to the Lebanese government and to many others affected by or involved with the great escape.

The plan concocted by Mr Ghosn cost him an estimated $20m in expenses and led him to forfeit bail money, humiliated Japan’s prosecutors in front of the world and confirmed warnings from Nissan and elsewhere that a man famous for arriving everywhere by private jet could always find a way to escape in one.

It has also caused problems in Lebanon, where the government is tackling a financial crisis while the country has been rocked by protests against its political elites, making political sympathy for Mr Ghosn limited.

For a deep dive into what drove Mr Ghosn’s decision to flee Japan, and its numerous repercussions for those involved take a look at Leo, Kana and Peter’s piece here


The Green Beret ex-con who allegedly helped Ghosn escape

As a member of the US Army’s elite Green Berets he was trained to make daring parachute jumps behind enemy lines.

As a security contractor he boasted deep experience across the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, and had overseen high-stakes kidnapping rescues.

He had also served time in prison for a bribery scheme involving $54m in US defence department contracts.

In others words, Mike Taylor appeared to have the right skills to help pluck Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chief executive, from Japan, where he was embroiled in criminal proceedings, and spirit him to his native Lebanon.

In this piece, the FT’s Joshua Chaffin and Laura Pitel take a look behind the scenes at the man purported to be the orchestrator of Mr Ghosn’s daring escape.


Carlos Ghosn is just the latest CEO to skip out in style

The former chief executive of Nissan largely stuck to the time-honoured traditions of tycoons on the lam — he fled by air to a country where his status as an investor meant he would be welcome, writes Jonathan Guthrie, head of the FT’s Lex column.

Countries popular with business fugitives also tend to be helpfully sanguine over allegations of financial impropriety. Carlos Ghosn is now in Lebanon. Kobi Alexander, former CEO of New York-based Comverse Technology, headed for Namibia in 2006. Asil Nadir, a prominent UK businessman, holed up in northern Cyprus for 17 years.

Japan, in contrast, is a law-abiding place. This could explain the apparent ease with which Mr Ghosn skipped house arrest and bail. A surveillance camera was watching his front door. The Japanese police may have assumed no one would be so underhand as to sneak out the back. Game, set and match to Mr Ghosn’s private security contractors. They can now add “executive outplacement” to their list of services.

Mr Ghosn travelled to Turkey aboard a private jet, as you would expect of a high-status fugitive.

Less glamorously, a 2017 Ryanair flight to Greece was the last known whereabouts of Ruja Ignatova, a self-styled cryptocurrency entrepreneur indicted for fraud in the US. Her OneCoin business, widely condemned as a Ponzi scheme, attracted an estimated €4bn from investors. Like the money, Ms Ignatova could now be anywhere.

Business people who are in hot water have a habit of disappearing. Pretending to be dead is one refinement, usefully sapping the resolve of would-be pursuers. David Elias, whose SLS Capital was implicated in City frauds, was reportedly alive and well in 2011, two years after his obituary was published.

See Jonathan’s full column here


Carlos Ghosn in transit from Osaka to Beirut

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Ghosn press conference scheduled to begin imminently

Carlos Ghosn is set to begin his press conference in 10 minutes, at 3pm local time in Beirut.

There is intense media interest and high security at the building where the ex-Nissan chief is set to speak. He made an extraordinary escape to Lebanon from Japan by taxi, bullet train and private jet on December 29.


Emoticon Ghosn appears at news conference

Huge scrum of cameras and reporters in the room as Carlos Ghosn prepares to address the world, write Peter Campbell and Chloe Cornish.

Carole Ghosn is also here. Mr Ghosn is wearing a pink tie, being illuminated by camera flashes. His hair is no longer jet-black, now greying and swept to one side.

Photo credit: Reuters


Chaotic scenes as Ghosn appears

Chloe Cornish in Beirut writes:

Mr Ghosn’s Lebanese lawyer Carlos Abou Jaoude is in the room. It is a fairly chaotic scene, with members of the press team exhorting photographers to leave the room.

Everything is a bit damp – it’s raining heavily outside. We’re in the Lebanese Press Syndicate – which just happens to be above a car showroom.


Ghosn: I was brutally taken from my world

Peter Campbell writes:

Having welcomed the attended media in three languages – English, French and Arabic – Carlos Ghosn begins his opening address:

I have looked to this for every single day for more than 400 days since I was brutally taken from my world as I knew it.

Ripped from my family, friends, communities, from Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi and the 450,000 women and men who comprised those companies.

It is impossible to express the depth of that deprivation and my profound appreciation to be able to be reunited with my family and loved ones. Today is also a poignant reminder of the day precisely one year ago when I appeared before many of you, as well as a Japanese judge and prosecutors in Tokyo, and I pleaded my innocence … whilst restrained by handcuffs and bound by a leash around my waist which was used to take me into the room.


Ghosn says prosecutors threatened to ‘go after’ his family

Peter Campbell and Michael Pooler write:

Carlos Ghosn says prosecutors made it clear to him it would be worse for him if he did not confess, telling him “Just confess and it will be over. Not only will we go after you, and we will go after your family.”

Mr Ghosn says he is “not here to talk about how I managed to leave [Japan]”, before adding, to laughter: “Although I can understand that you are interested in that. I’m here to talk about why I left.”

He says he will set out “facts and data and evidence”, adding: “hopefully you will discover the truth”.


Ghosn mentions old colleague Greg Kelly

Peter Campbell writes:

Mr Ghosn addresses Greg Kelly – the former Nissan executive who was arrested at the same time and is still in Japan – as an “an honourable man, husband and father who was brutally ripped from his family.”

Mr Kelly was coaxed to Japan when he needed to remain in the US for surgery, and arrested upon arrival, he says.

He adds: “Greg remains a victim of the Japanese hostage justice system.”

“We and you cannot forget Greg’s ordeal and the pain he and the family endured at the hands of the Japanese justice system.”

Peter Campbell and Kana Inagaki wrote about Mr Kelly’s plight here.


Ghosn: ‘I fled injustice and persecution’

Carlos Ghosn tells reporters he “did not escape justice” but rather “fled injustice and persecution”, writes Michael Pooler.

He goes on to say: “Having endured more than 400 days on inhumane treatment designed to break me and designed to not provide me … justice, I [had] no other choice than to protect me and my family.”

He adds:

With the strings being pulled and manipulated by those dead set on securing a confession or conviction whose only goal is to save face. The facts, truth and justice are irrelevant to these individuals.

This was the most difficult decision of my life, but let us not forget that I was facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 per cent and I will bet you this number is much higher for the foreigners.


Ghosn outlines his remarks

Mr Ghosn will break down the rest of his remarks into five sections:

• Why this all happened
• How this happened
• The charges facing him
• The state of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance
• The “smear campaign” in the media


Ghosn: Ousting was designed to cut Renault influence on Nissan

Mr Ghosn says he was got rid of in order to remove Renault’s influence over Nissan, writes Michael Pooler.

“Unfortunately there was no trust,” he says.

Some of our Japanese friends thought the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault on Nissan is to get rid of me. Unfortunately they were right.


Ghosn alleges collusion between Nissan and prosecutors

“The collusion between Nissan and the prosecutor is everywhere,” Carlos Ghosn said. “I have been told this is totally illegal.”


Ghosn hits out at treatment in Japanese prison

Peter Campbell writes:

Mr Ghosn paints a grim picture of his experience in a Japanese prison, describing a “tiny cell without [a] window”, with 30 minutes outside allowed a day, but not on weekends due to a lack of guards.

He could only shower twice a week, despite asking for more. He claims he went six days without human contact during the New Year break, while prescription medication was forbidden and a translator available only once a week.

Questioning sessions took up to eight hours, taped and without a lawyer present, he says.


Ghosn: Choice was between dying in Japan or escaping

Peter Campbell writes:

After describing, in depth, his experience in prison and while on bail, Mr Ghosn talks about his rationale for escaping.

Despite having described earlier in the press conference his decision to flee as “the most difficult in my life”, Mr Ghosn now says the choice was “not very difficult”.

“You’re going to die in Japan or you have to get out.”


Ghosn says Nissan ‘plotted’ to oust him

Carlos Ghosn names the people he believes were involved with the Nissan “plot” to oust him, though, in a surprise move, stops short of naming Japanese government officials he believes were involved, Peter Campbell writes.

Ahead of Mr Ghosn’s press conference, people close to the Japanese government said they were prepared to counter his claims if he made any reference to Tokyo’s involvement in his downfall which they strongly deny.


Ghosn accuses Nissan of ‘character assassination’

Mr Ghosn has moved on to talk about what he calls a “character assassination” by Nissan, writes Peter Campbell.

“I have to say, they have been very successful,” he says.


Ghosn claims Nissan spent $200m on probe

Mr Ghosn has laid into Nissan for distracting its management:

You’re going to destroy your company, your image, your brand, diverge your attention of top management, risk the alliance – for what?”

He alleges that Nissan spent $200m during the investigation – a figure he says Bloomberg printed – against the allegations of $14m and $5m that are unaccounted for.

The market cap decrease of Nissan is more than $10bn since my arrest. More than $40m a day during this period.


Watch: Ghosn lashes out at Japan’s justice system

Carlos Ghosn has described his detention in Japan as a “travesty against my human rights”.

Here is a clip of the former Nissan-Renault chairman laying out some of his accusations in a press conference that began an hour ago.

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Ghosn thunders as storm rages in Beirut

Chloe Cornish, the FT’s Middle East correspondent, reports from the press conference:

Windows have been opened. The room is heating up as a storm rages outside.

Mr Ghosn is presenting bits of evidence, but it’s difficult to follow.

The former auto titan is becoming increasingly animated as he says that Renault and Nissan’s market caps have declined since his arrest, while the accusations of $11m “undefined expenses” are debated.

Lightning keeps flashing.


Ghosn confirms Renault considered FCA merger

Peter Campbell writes:

Mr Ghosn confirms the FT’s scoop that Renault was interested in merging with Fiat Chrysler several years ago, and shows exasperation that his successors allowed the subsequent deal to fail.

FCA walked away from merger talks with Renault last year, and subsequently agreed to tie up with French arch-rival PSA.

Gesticulating, a clearly exercised Mr Ghosn added: “How can you lose that…it’s unbelievable!”


Ghosn takes a break

Having spoken unbroken for almost an hour, Mr Ghosn wipes his brow before taking a break, Peter Campbell writes.

He will answer questions after the break in Arabic, French and English, before, to applause, adding “and Portuguese”.


Ghosn named Nissan executives

The current and former Nissan executives named by Mr Ghosn as allegedly involved in the “plot” to oust him are:

• Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s CEO at the time
• Toshiaki Onuma, former senior Nissan administrator
• Hari Nada, former head of legal
• Masakazu Toyoda, the former Japanese trade ministry official who heads Nissan’s nomination committee
• Hidetoshi Imazu, former internal auditor
• Hitoshi Kawaguchi, a former executive who was in charge of government relations


Ghosn moves on to Q&A

Chloe Cornish and Peter Campbell write:

Mr Ghosn is moving into the room full of journalists in MC role, saying that he will take questions region by region.

He says he will start with the Lebanese press. “Choose whatever language you want.”

Amid much shouting from journalists, and from advisers for journalists to “sit down”, Mr Ghosn begins to take questions from the assembled press.


Watch: Ghosn on why he fled Japan

Carlos Ghosn said the decision to flee Japan was the “most difficult” decision of his life. Here is a clip in which Mr Ghosn describes his rationale:

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Netflix drama not on the cards yet

Peter Campbell writes:

Asked in Arabic whether he has signed a deal to make a film or TV production of the saga, Mr Ghosn says that “no contract has been signed with Netflix”.


Ghosn says he is ‘ready’ to share exonerating documents

Michael Pooler writes:

Mr Ghosn was asked whether he can provide documents that prove his innocence.

“I am ready to share the documents,” he said, adding that his Lebanese and international team of lawyers could provide them.


Ghosn says Paris trying to avoid escalating situation with Tokyo

Michael Pooler and Domitille Alain write:

Mr Ghosn said the French government was doing all it could in order not to worsen the situation with its Japanese counterpart.

Responding to a separate question, he said he had no political ambitions but that he would “put my experience at the service of Lebanon” if asked. He said he was “ready to spend a long time in Lebanon”.


Ghosn: I will fight to clear my name

Mr Ghosn said he did not consider himself a prisoner in Lebanon, and would fight to clear his name. He said he was used to “mission impossible” and will find a way to ensure “the truth will come out”.

“I am going to fight. Because I have to clear my name and this is something that is extremely important to me.”


Ghosn: ‘Plot’ does not reach as high as Japan’s PM

Peter Campbell writes:

Mr Ghosn said he did not believe that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was involved in the so-called “plot” to oust him, but declined to say how high he believed the “plot” went within the Japanese government system.

He added that he was ready to stand trial “anywhere I can receive a fair trial” in order to clear his name.


Ghosn: Ready to face ‘fair’ trial

Mr Ghosn said he decided to flee to Lebanon for logistical reasons, and that he was willing to face proceedings “in the first forum where I can express myself in front of a justice who is not biased”.

He said the Japanese prosecutor broke the law by leaking to the press, and also complained of unfair treatment from the Japanese media, some of whom were not allowed into today’s news conference.


Ghosn describes ‘very good dialogue’ in 2018 over failed FCA merger

Peter Campbell writes:

Mr Ghosn lays out more timing about the failed merger talks with Fiat Chrysler.

He claimed the two sides had “a lot of understanding” and a “very good dialogue” in 2018, with a meeting set for January 2019 to finalise an agreement.

He was arrested in November 2018 before he could finalise the deal.

Losing the potential partner is a “a big waste for Renault”, he adds.


Ghosn blames voting arrangements for Japanese distrust

Michael Pooler writes:

Mr Ghosn said distrust on the Japanese side towards him stemmed from the loi Florange, which denied Nissan voting rights in Renault despite owning shares.

He added that his role in charge of overseeing the alliance led to a perception among some in the Japanese camp that a merger between the two companies would follow.

“[This] wasn’t at all my intention, a merger is impossible to manage — that I made clear,” he said.


Ghosn cryptic on support from France

Michael Pooler writes:

Asked whether he feels abandoned by the French authorities, Mr Ghosn replied: “How would you feel in my place, madame, supported or abandoned?”

He added:

“I hope that this wasn’t the case. I’m a French citizen like others, but not above them nor below them.”


Ghosn: ‘I didn’t escape because I was guilty’

Mr Ghosn says he thinks he could have a fair trial in any of the countries which he is a citizen of: Lebanon, Brazil and France. He adds that these three also do not extradite their citizens.

Asked whether he would always be considered guilty of the charges against him given his refusal to face Japanese justice, he said: “I didn’t escape because I was guilty. I escaped because I had zero chance of a fair trial.”

Assuming there is no smoke without fire “always gives advantage to those who attack you”, he adds.


Ghosn: Reaching freedom was like being reborn

Domitille Alain writes:

Mr Ghosn revealed a human side when asked by French TV station Arte whether he took a great risk in fleeing Japan and his feeling when the escape happened.

“On November 19, 2018 it was as if I was dead,” he said.

I did not know if I would be able to see the people I love again, I was paralysed, I was so shocked … I was anesthetized.

“When I saw I was free, it was as if I was born again,” he said.


Ghosn grilled on escape methods

Peter Campbell writes:

Despite refusing to give details of his escape, Mr Ghosn received lots of questions about the flight, which included him travelling part of the way in a musical equipment storage case.

When asked if he recommends a packing case as a means of travel, Mr Ghosn smiles and moves on to the next question.


Ghosn wraps up

Carlos Ghosn has finished his freewheeling and occasionally rambling press conference in Beirut after giving his version of events for more than two hours.

The former Nissan chief launched a scathing attack on the Japanese justice system as he maintained his own innocence, and said he would be willing to face justice in a country where he believes he would face a fair trial.


Overview: Carlos Ghosn accuses Japan of ‘repaying me with evil’

FT correspondents in Beirut, London and Tokyo have delved into the key points from today’s press conference:

Carlos Ghosn accused Japan of “repaying me with evil” for decades of service during this afternoon’s press conference, launching a corruscating attack on the country’s justice system and those that he claimed concocted a criminal case to destroy him.

Mr Ghosn did not provide details of his dramatic escape from bail in Tokyo to Lebanon in late December — a flight that has made him an international fugitive and may severely restrict his movements from now on — but said “I do not consider myself a prisoner” in Lebanon.

His speech, which set out to address a broad range of allegations, and was delivered with characteristic passion, identified what he called “illegal” collusion between Nissan and the Japanese government to bring him down.

For a rundown on the press conference from the FT’s Leo Lewis, Kana Inagaki, Peter Campbell and Chloe Cornish, check out the full piece here.


That’s all for now

Thanks for joining the FT’s live coverage of Carlos Ghosn’s remarkable news conference in Beirut.

It is past midnight in Tokyo, but the Japanese authorities are expected to set out their own version of events in the coming hours. Do check back with FT.com for further coverage and analysis from our global team.