Ten days after a dramatic escape spirited him from Japan to Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn’s appearance at a news conference in Beirut was eagerly awaited.
It turns out that it was not just journalists from scores of outlets around the world who were looking forward to it.
For Ghosn, a hero of Japanese business now recast as the most notorious, and possibly richest, fugitive in the world, this was his opportunity to answer his accusers.
Carlos Ghosn : ‘I did not escape justice’
He was determined not to waste it, promising to lay out the reason for his flight, and debunk the charges against him.
So for almost two and a half hours in four languages he delivered a righteous defence of his conduct while running Nissan; an emphatic denial of the criminal allegations made against him in Japan; and alleged a high-level plot designed to eject him from the company and scupper a merger with Renault.
Displaying the charisma and steepling self-regard that helped him become a giant of the auto industry he proclaimed his innocence, settled scores and burnished his record.
Above all he cast himself as the victim, describing six weeks of detention in solitary confinement, daily interrogations without a lawyer present, and threats that the authorities would pursue his family if he did not confess.
More from Business
“I did not escape justice, I fled injustice, political persecution having endured more than 400 days of inhuman treatment in a system designed to break me,” he said.
‘I was facing conviction rate of 99%’
The circumstances of his escape, hidden in a large box guarded by security consultants on private jets, are the stuff of crime drama, but he declined to answer questions about how he managed it.
Instead he alleged a larger conspiracy against him, co-ordinated by Nissan senior management, Japanese prosecutors and unnamed government officials to ensure that his control of the car giant should end.
His central allegation is that concern over Nissans relationship with Renault, a partnership guided by Ghosn that he wished to turn into a formal merger, prompted the action against him.
Extraordinarily he says that this boardroom tension escalated into a political plot executed by overly-mighty prosecutors.
The relationship with Renault, where as chief executive Ghosn earned the nickname “Le cost killer”, has long been fraught.
What’s the truth behind the escape of Nissan boss to Lebanon?
Renault bought a stake in Nissan in 1999, and having become chairman of the Japanese company a year later Ghosn steered the pair into alliance with a combined output that made them the fourth-largest manufacturer in the world.
Steering the alliance required diplomatic nous as well as business acumen. Renault is majority-owned by the French state and the structure of the relationship gave it greater voting rights than the Japanese shareholders.
Mr Ghosn said anxiety about the consequences of a proposed full merger drove his downfall and said government officials, unnamed out of “respect for Lebanon” were involved. He did excuse Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – “Abe-san” – from blame.
Less coherent was Ghosn’s attempt to rebut the charges against him. He is accused of understating his pay by $80m over 10 years and of misusing company funds for the benefit of himself and his own family, including a $600,000 party for his wife at Versailles.
Image: Carlos Ghosn is shown leaving the Tokyo Detention House in April last year
Armed with slides of receipts and documents he claimed never to have received the money he is alleged to have concealed, and dismissed the other claims.
He said his successor gave him permission to live in and buy at book price, homes in Rio and Beirut that Nissan paid for.
And he dismissed the Versailles party as a misunderstanding claiming the palace, a symbol of the pre-Revolutionary excesses of the French monarchy, was provided free after Nissan-Renault contributed $1m to renovation costs.
“Versailles matched the values of the alliance,” he said, an insight perhaps into how he regarded his place in the business firmament.
Ghosn concluded by vowing to clear his name but it may not be necessary.
Lebanon has said it will not extradite him, a position shared by France and Brazil, whose passports he also holds.
His gamble may have paid off and this bravura performance may not be his last. The next chapter may be more likely to be seen on screen than in court.
Source : Sky News