'I did not escape justice, I fled injustice' - watch Ghosn's first press conference in full

Published: 08 January 2020

► Carlos Ghosn flees Japan in secret
► Ex-Nissan boss now in hiding in Lebanon
► Full background on Ghosn pay scandal

Fugitive former car boss Carlos Ghosn has given his first press conference since fleeing from Japan, where he was bailed awaiting trial for allegedly misuing company funds for personal benefit. He called his decision to run the hardest of his life.

You can hear the full press conference in our video above. In the prepared speech, Ghosn told assembled reporters he was 'brutally taken from my work as I knew it, ripped from my work, my family and my friends' and claimed he had been kept in solitary confinement for 130 days in a windowless cell. 'I did not escape justice, I fled injustice,' he said, claiming that prosecutors pressured him to confessing in scenes violating international standards of justice.

Tellingly, the ousted CEO said he had been pushed out in a coup planned to disrupt Renault's growing influence over decisions made at Nissan. He repeatedly denied all allegations against him.

How Carlos Ghosn fled Japan

Sadly, Ghosn hasn't yet revealed how he escaped Japan and insisted he did it himself, with no help from his wife Carole. Interpol has issued a wanted 'red notice' for Ghosn, who has fled bail in Japan and landed in his native Lebanon. It's a further twist in the ongoing saga of the ex-boss of Nissan, who's facing corruption charges in Japan.

Ghosn, whose trial was due to start in April 2020, has confirmed: '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.'

Uncorroborated reports suggest that Ghosn managed to leave Japan hidden in equipment boxes of a musical band, while others intimated the involvement of security professionals; he had been barred from travelling and had surrendered his Brazilian, French and Lebanese passports to officials, but sleuths have monitored aircraft movements suggesting he fled in a private jet, which landed in Istanbul on New Year's Eve before departing for Lebanon.

Ghosn claims he was forced to 'escaped injustice and political persecution' - even to the surprise of his own lawyers. One of his Japanese legal team, Junichiro Hironaka, called it 'inexcusable behavior.' 

Carlos Ghosn: the story so far

Until his brazen escape from Tokyo, where he had lodged 1 billion yen (£7 million) in bail fees, Ghosn had been awaiting trial on charges of underreporting his pay, making illegal payments to a Nissan distributor in Oman and diverting money from the company for his own personal spending. He denies all charges.

Ghosn released a video statement protesting his innocence in spring 2019, days after he was rearrested in the ongoing investigation into his financial affairs. You can watch the video below, where he blamed Nissan senior executives for 'playing a dirty game' and blaming him instead of fixing the car maker's worsening performance.

Carlos Ghosn: international fugitive?

The former Nissan chairman had pledged to hold a press conference, but was rearrested on a new line of inquiry preventing him from talking to the world's media. According to the Financial Times, his second arrest followed an alleged $5 million sent by a Nissan subsidiary to an overseas dealership ended up being diverted to a company controlled by Ghosn. ‘We now have a totally different case, and we are only doing what we think is right,' Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office, told reporters at the time. ‘As a result of our investigation, we have a new case in which he must be detained, and we have appropriately obtained an arrest warrant from the court.’

Ghosn hasn’t taken the charges lying down, though. ‘My arrest this morning is outrageous and arbitrary,’ he said. ‘It is part of another attempt by some individuals at Nissan to silence me by misleading the prosecutors. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken. I am innocent of the groundless charges and accusations against me.’

Carlos Ghosn takes to Twitter

Carlos Ghosn joined Twitter during his incarceration and was promising to spill the beans on his brutal removal from one of the world's biggest car making alliances in a press conference scheduled for Thursday 11 April 2019.

In March 2019, Ghosn was eventually released from the Tokyo detention centre where he was held for 108 days - disguised as a workman wearing overalls, a cap and face mask. His lawyer subsequently apologised for the idea, which backfired when assembled photographers shot him in his makeshift garb (below).

Carlos Ghosn disguise leaving jail

His exit was broadcast live on Japanese TV. If found guilty of misrepresenting his pay, he could face a lengthy prison sentence. In a bid to win in a legal system that has a 99% conviction rate, the former CEO has hired Takashi Takano, one of Japan's top lawyers to fight his case.

Ghosn has been released on a sizeable bail and was banned from leaving the country, using the internet and had to agree to having CCTV monitor his movements at an agreed residence in Tokyo. Sadly for the Japanese legal system, these measures weren't enough to prevent him slipping out of the country undetected...

Ghosn's first interview since his arrest

In January 2019 Ghosn gave an interview where he claimed he had been the subject of a 'plot and treason.' Speaking from jail in Japan, the former CEO said he had 'no doubt' that he has been removed by powerful executives in Nissan, worried about the proposed closer integration of the partner brands in the alliance.

Speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review from the Tokyo Detention House, where he'd been held for more than two months, Ghosn said that senior forces within Nissan wanted to 'get rid' of him when plans emerged last autumn to integrate Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi more closely.

He protested his innocence and was adamant that the pay and homes around the globe had all been approved by the company's benefits and legal teams. 'I needed a safe place where I can work and receive people in both Brazil and Lebanon,' he told the reporter.

An artist's impression of Carlos Ghosn in court in Tokyo flashes up on Japanese TV (Getty)

Ghosn said 'there is up and down' while he languished in jail, but confirmed that his health was 'doing fine.' A court in Tokyo declined his second request for bail on 22 January 2019.

Carlos Ghosn steps down as CEO of Renault

His interview was made days after Ghosn stepped down as chief executive officer of Renault, making way for Thierry Bolloré (himself brutally removed in the intervening months, in another bloody boardroom coup). It was only a matter of time before Ghosn was ousted from the French car maker, matching his expulsion from alliance partners Nissan and Mitsubishi over his allegedly misreported pay.

Renault is splitting its leadership and is appointing a separate CEO and chairman, to add tighter governance, the company said in a statement. At this stage, there is no suggestion that Ghosn had fiddled his remuneration at Renault, but his fall from grace in Japan has made his position untenable.

Fresh allegations of financial misconduct

Ghosn's exit from the European arm of the alliance follows new allegations made in late January 2019 that the former Nissan CEO has received a further $9 million (£7m) in improper payments from a joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi based in the Netherlands.

Nissan claims that Ghosn was compensated by the business without consulting two other board members Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and his counterpart at Mitsubishi, Osamu Masuko.

Carlos Ghosn arrested

In a statement Nissan said: 'Nissan views the payments Ghosn received from [the joint venture] to be the result of misconduct and will consider measures to recover from Ghosn the full sum.'

Both companies have already sacked him after his arrest last year, for financial misconduct, misreporting his pay and breach of trust. His resignation from Renault on 24 January 2019 was widely predicted.

Carlos Ghosn in first court appearance

Ghosn publicly denied any wrongdoing in his first public appearance in court in Tokyo on 9 January 2019. Handcuffed and with a rope around his waist, a visibly thinner Ghosn said in a statement he had been 'wrongly accused and unfairly detained.'

It was the first time he'd been seen in public since his arrest in November 2018. He has been held in a Japanese jail ever since, accused of misrepresenting his pay over an eight-year period, as well as using company assets to buy personal property and hide trading losses in the wake of the global recession a decade ago.

'I have been wrongly accused and unfairly detained, based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,' Ghosn told the Tokyo District Court. His defence called on Japanese prosecutors to release him; so far they have been unwilling to do so, fearing he may tamper with evidence or witnesses, or flee abroad.

If found guilty, Ghosn faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 700 million yen (£5m), according to Japanese regulators.

Why Carlos Ghosn and Greg Kelly were arrested

Prosecutors in Tokyo have indicted Carlos Ghosn and Greg Kelly, the two men at the centre of the pay scandal engulfing Nissan - and the car maker has also been indicted for misrepresenting its former chairman's pay.

Both senior Nissan executives have been re-arrested, extending the time they can be kept in jail. They have been held at a detention centre since 19 November 2018, when the scandal first broke. Kelly has subsequently been released.

'Making false disclosures in annual securities reports greatly harms the integrity of Nissan’s public disclosures in the securities markets, and the company expresses its deepest regret,' the company said. 'Nissan will continue its efforts to strengthen its governance and compliance, including making accurate disclosures of corporate information.'

2018: not a good year to be a car boss

Why Carlos Ghosn was arrested over his pay

One of the biggest car industry bosses in the world - Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Renault Nissan - has been ousted from his role as chairman of Nissan.

The board voted unanimously to remove Ghosn and senior executive Greg Kelly 'to minimise the potential impact and confusion on the day-to-day cooperation among the Alliance partners.'  

Carlos Ghosn (Getty)

Both men have been arrested in Tokyo amid claims they conspired to misrepresent the chairman's pay over many years.

Emergency press conference: the new Nissan CEO speaks

‘I feel despair, indignation and resentment,’ Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa (above) told an emergency news conference in Yokahama on 19 November, the day news broke. ‘As the details are disclosed I believe that people will feel the same way as I feel today.'

He confirmed Nissan's plan to remove Ghosn, 64, from office. His immediate plan was to ‘stabilise the situation, and normalise day-to-day operations,’ Saikawa added.

'Too much authority was given to one person in terms of governance... I have to say that this is a dark side of the Ghosn era which lasted for a long time.' The CEO said he was still pondering whether Ghosn was 'a charismatic figure or a tyrant.'

Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan president and CEO, spoke at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan

Unconfirmed local reports claim Ghosn under-reported an amount totalling 5 billion yen (£34 million) over a five-year period from 2011. Nissan has yet to reveal any amounts or details, but has admitted that 'numerous other significant acts of misconduct [including] personal use of company assets' were being investigated.

Ghosn is also accused of having company-paid houses in four countries, according to Japanese media. It is also alleged that the arrested men were planning retirement payment schemes.

Shares in Nissan fell by 4%, Mitsubishi was down by 7% and Renault stock hit a four-year low in Europe in the days after their arrest. Ghosn is also CEO and chairman of Renault and chairman of Mitsubishi Motors.

Nissan statement on Carlos Ghosn pay investigation

Nissan said it had been investigating Ghosn's compensation and pay packages for several months, as well as the actions of Greg Kelly, representative director at the company.

'Based on a whistleblower report, Nissan Motor Co Ltd has been conducting an internal investigation over the past several months regarding misconduct involving the company's chairman Carlos Ghosn and representative director Greg Kelly.

Carlos Ghosn: chairman of Nissan

'The investigation showed that over many years both Ghosn and Kelly have been reporting compensation amounts in the Tokyo Stock Exchange securities report that were less than the actual amount, in order to reduce the disclosed amount of Carlos Ghosn's compensation.'

Ghosn and Kelly were unavailable for comment.

The end of the road for Ghosn

Ghosn was credited with turning around Renault and Nissan and is the architect of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors strategic alliance, that he still chairs. He also backed the group's pioneering move into mainstream electric cars, but in recent years he has been shedding some of his responsibilities as talk turns to succession planning.

Needless to say, he remains innocent until proven guilty. But it seems that the next few weeks will be crucial in determining Ghosn's legacy as one of the big beasts of the global car industry.

This is a breaking news story and we will update it as soon as we know more

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet