Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss, Carlos Ghosn held a news conference in Beirut on Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Nissan ex-chair Ghosn describes Japan arrest as a plot

BEIRUT — Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss, Carlos Ghosn, on Wednesday described his arrest in Japan, from which he escaped last month, as a plot against him and his detention conditions as a “travesty” against human rights.

Ghosn was defensive as he held a news conference in Beirut – his first appearance since fleeing Japan last month in a high-risk operation. He said the decision to escape the country, where he was due to stand trial for alleged financial misconduct at the automaker, “was the most difficult of my life.”

The former auto industry titan dismissed all allegations against him as untrue, saying “I should never have been arrested in the first place.”

“I’m not above the law and I welcome the opportunity for the truth to come out and have my name cleared,” he told a packed room of journalists.

Ghosn smuggled himself from Tokyo to Beirut in late December, arriving in the Lebanese capital where he grew up and is regarded by many as a national hero.

Ghosn’s daring and improbable escape has perplexed and embarrassed Japanese authorities after he skipped bail and managed to flee the country despite supposedly rigorous surveillance.

Media reports have said that he left his residence alone, met two men at a Tokyo hotel, and then took a bullet train to Osaka before boarding a private jet hidden inside a case for musical equipment. He flew to Istanbul and was then transferred onto another plane bound for Beirut, where he arrived Dec. 30.

On Wednesday, Ghosn portrayed his arrest as a plot linked to a decline in the financial performance of Nissan. Ghosn had been in favour of merging Nissan with industry ally Renault, of which he was also chairman.

“Unfortunately there was no trust. And some of our Japanese friends thought that the only way to get rid of Renault in Nissan is to get rid of me,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Tokyo prosecutors raided a Japanese lawyer’s office where Ghosn had visited regularly before he fled. Japanese media reports said prosecutors had likely seized the computer to track down how Ghosn escaped and who might have helped him.

An hour before the scheduled press conference, a Lebanese prosecutor said Ghosn will be summoned “in the coming hours” over a visit to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Two Lebanese lawyers had submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office against Ghosn last week, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The two neighbouring countries are technically in a state of war. Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury met with the two lawyers who filed the case on Wednesday and asked them to bring additional evidence, adding he would summon Ghosn in the coming hours.

Ghosn visited Israel in 2008 and met officials including the prime minister and the president. At the time he announced the launch of electric cars in Israel.

Lebanese authorities have said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, casting doubt on the possibility they would hand him over to Japan. Lebanon last week received an Interpol-issued wanted notice — a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive.

Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, and the Interpol notice does not require Lebanon to arrest him.

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was expected to go on trial in Tokyo in April. In statements, he has said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system.” He also said that he alone organized his departure from Japan and that his wife, Carole, played no role.

On Tuesday, Tokyo prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Carole Ghosn on suspicion of perjury. That charge is not related to his escape. Lebanon’s justice minister said Tuesday that Lebanon has not received any request related to that warrant.

Japanese justice officials acknowledge that it’s unclear whether the Ghosns can be brought back to Japan to face charges.

Ghosn’s former employer, Nissan Motor Co., said it was still pursuing legal action against him despite his escape, adding that Ghosn engaged in serious misconduct while leading the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance. Ghosn denies all the charges.

By The Associated Press

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