BEIRUT, Jan 8(AFP): Carlos Ghosn is set to hit back at allegations against him when the fugitive car magnate faces the world’s media on Wednesday for the first time since his Houdini-like escape from Japan. The former Renault-Nissan boss, who denies any wrongdoing, skipped bail while awaiting trial on multiple charges of financial misconduct including allegedly under-reporting his compensation to the tune of $85 million.
As the globe-trotting mogul prepared to tell his side of the story at a highly anticipated news conference in Lebanon, his lawyers lashed out at Nissan, saying its investigation was aimed at “taking down Carlos Ghosn”.
The 65-year-old businessman, once a giant of the car industry, has given few media statements since he fled Japan and arrived in his native Lebanon almost two weeks ago, in the latest shock twist to a gripping saga. He plans to use his public appearance in Beirut to name those he believes were behind a plot to oust him, including Japanese government officials, a US broadcaster said Tuesday. The encounter with the media is scheduled for 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) at Lebanon’s press syndicate headquarters. A day in advance, journalists were already gathering outside the building.
On Wednesday morning, private security personnel guarded the pink coloured villa in central Beirut where Ghosn is believed to be residing, an AFP photographer said, as reporters camped outside. Journalists, including several from Japan, watched with bated breath as vehicles — some with tinted windows — came and went from the premises.
Ghosn’s bail jump has prompted outrage from the Japanese government, which has called his escape “unjustifiable”, as well as from Japanese automaker Nissan which labelled the getaway “extremely regrettable”.
Many are expecting Ghosn to disclose details of his audacious flight from Japan to Beirut via Istanbul — a dramatic twist in a story worthy of a Hollywood plot. According to Japanese media, he slipped out of his house in Tokyo, boarded a bullet train to Osaka and then a private jet to Istanbul, evading customs by hiding in a box, before reaching Beirut on December 30.
Ghosn says the charges against him stem from a “coup” inside Nissan by disgruntled executives and Japanese officials who feared his plans to more closely integrate the car giant with its alliance partner, French firm Renault.
Nissan has continued to insist it has “incontrovertible evidence of various acts of misconduct by Ghosn”. But his legal team in France hit back at those remarks just hours before Ghosn was due to speak. The carmaker’s claims that it has conducted a thorough investigation into its former boss is a “gross perversion of the truth”, they said in a statement. The probe was “initiated for the specific, pre-determined purpose of taking down Carlos Ghosn,” said the lawyers.
Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business said Ghosn had told her over the weekend that he has “actual evidence” and documents proving there was a plot to “take him out” in response to his plan to merge Nissan and Renault. He had also told her he would name those behind his November 2018 arrest for alleged financial misconduct, including some officials in the Japanese government.
Ghosn’s high-profile arrest and his long detention — 130 days in total — under severe conditions were widely considered draconian compared with the West. He twice won bail by persuading the court he was not a flight risk — decisions seen as controversial at the time. His latest release came with conditions that included a ban on overseas travel and limited contact with his wife, Carole, who insisted this week she had no advance knowledge of the escape plan.
Japanese prosecutors are also seeking to arrest her, alleging she “made false statements” during April testimony to the Tokyo district court. As Japan grapples with the fallout from the embarrassing security lapse, prosecutors on Wednesday attempted to raid the offices of one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, to seize computers.
However, the lawyers refused them access, citing “attorney-client confidentiality”. Ghosn himself has said he left Japan because he was no longer willing to be “held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system”.
“I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” Ghosn said in a statement on December 31. Lebanon, which has no extradition agreement with Japan, has said Ghosn entered the country legally in possession of a French passport and a Lebanese identification card. The tycoon holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationalities.