Ghosn vows to clear name at first appearance since fleeing Japan

Tony Gamal-Gabriel, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 08 2020 09:37 PM

Ghosn vows to clear name at first appearance since fleeing Japan 1
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn gestures during a news conference at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut, Lebanon. Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

BEIRUT - Fugitive auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn vowed Wednesday to clear his name as he made his first public appearance at a news conference in Beirut since skipping bail in Japan.

The former Renault-Nissan boss addressed a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan.

Ghosn, who denies any wrongdoing, fled charges of financial misconduct including allegedly under-reporting his compensation to the tune of $85 million.

Ghosn said he was "presumed guilty" and had "no choice" but to jump bail.

He said he had been "ripped" from friends and family when arrested.

The 65-year-old businessman, once a giant of the car industry, arrived in his native Lebanon almost two weeks ago, in the latest shock twist to a gripping saga.

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 labeled the getaway "extremely regrettable".

Many were hoping Ghosn would disclose details of his audacious flight from Japan to Beirut via Istanbul -- a dramatic twist in a story worthy of a Hollywood plot.

But Ghosn told reporters he was "not here to talk" about how he fled Japan.

According to Japanese media, Ghosn 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.

Earlier Wednesday, private security personnel guarded the pink-colored 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 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.