Carlos Ghosn condemns ‘conspiracy’ to remove him from Nissan

Former chairman of carmaker back in jail after fourth arrest in connection with fraud charges

Reporters work while a screen shows a video recorded by Carlos Ghosn, during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

Reporters work while a screen shows a video recorded by Carlos Ghosn, during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

 

Carlos Ghosn, the fallen corporate titan who once ran the world’s largest car alliance, has called his lengthy detention for alleged financial crimes a “plot” to dethrone him as head of Japanese carmaker Nissan.

The company’s former chairman is back in a cramped Tokyo cell following his fourth arrest last week. He made the claims in a video screened on Tuesday by his lawyer to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Mr Ghosn said he had committed no crimes and that “a few executives” at Nissan had engineered a conspiracy because of fears for the company’s independence. “It is not about greed. It is about a plot. It’s about backstabbing,” he said.

The Frenchman, who was born in Brazil and also has Lebanese citizenship, was due to speak to foreign reporters in person before Tokyo prosecutors raided his apartment in what his supporters say is an attempt to muzzle him.

Until his first surprise arrest last November, Mr Ghosn was working toward a full merger with Nissan’s partner Renault. The French company had acquired a 43 per cent share of Nissan following its bailout in 1999. Executives on Nissan’s board opposed the merger.

Nissan executives had reportedly prodded Japan’s government to lobby Renault against the merger before the arrest.

A Nissan whistleblower appears to have been the source of claims that the former chairman was underreporting his income and milking Nissan for his own gain. The amounts involve up to $80 million.

Mr Ghosn was freed on bail early last month after 108 days in detention, which drew international criticism of Japan’s so-called “hostage justice” system. Prosecutors took him back into custody on April 3rd, alleging that he diverted $5 million from a Nissan subsidiary for his personal use.

Mr Ghosn’s lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said prosecutors were trying to intimidate his client. “The purpose of his arrest was carried out not because of fears that he is a flight risk or might destroy evidence but rather to apply unjust pressure.”

Nissan shareholders voted on Monday to formally sack Mr Ghosn. His wife, Carole, flew to Paris at the weekend to demand the French government help win his release from the Tokyo Detention Centre. Before she left she said the ordeal had left him a “different person”.

Mr Hironaka condemned the treatment of the couple, saying that prosecutors had rousted Mrs Ghosn out of bed and confiscated her passport and mobile phone. “She is not a suspect in this case,” he said. He called Mr Ghosn’s latest arrest “legally wrong and inhumane.”

Mr Ghosn is widely credited with saving Nissan from bankruptcy after Renault dispatched him to Tokyo two decades ago. He later added Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi to his management portfolio. The three firms sold 10.6 million cars in 2017, just ahead of Volkswagen, Toyota and General Motors.

Critics say he gradually became too powerful and enriched himself and his family at Nissan’s expense.

The seven-minute video screened to foreign reporters expunged the names of the Nissan executives behind the alleged plot. Mr Ghosn said they lacked the leadership and vision needed to run the company and were playing a “dirty game” in trying to remove him.

“Frankly, sitting around a table being consensual about a decision, this is not a vision in an industry as competitive as the car industry,” he said, calling Nissan’s recent performance “absolutely mediocre”.

“I’m worried, because the performance of Nissan is declining and I don’t think there is vision for the alliance being built.”

Mr Ghosn said his biggest wish was “to have a fair trial” but he admitted that his lawyer “don’t share with me a lot of serenity about the case”.