Carlos Ghosn held a press conference in Lebanon early Wednesday to clear his name in the year-long scandal that has stripped him of his leadership roles at Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, and irrevocably tainted an otherwise well-regarded career as a captain of the automotive industry.
Ghosn told reporters in Beirut he had been treated "brutally" by Tokyo prosecutors, whom he accused of helping Nissan to oust him as chairman.
"I did not escape justice. I fled injustice and persecution," Ghosn said.
Speaking defiantly, the former Nissan chief told a packed news conference on Wednesday that he would not have faced a fair trial had he remained in Japan. The one-time titan of the auto industry fled Japan last month, where he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies. Ghosn said he had fled to Lebanon to clear his name.
"The charges against me are baseless," Ghosn said. He claimed Nissan employees and Japanese prosecutors colluded to keep him confined and cut off from both his family and the outside world while a case against him was manufactured following a downturn in Nissan's fortunes and in revenge for French government interference in the carmaker's alliance with Renault.
“The collusion between Nissan and the prosecutor is everywhere,” he said.
He said the case was trumped up to silence his advocacy of a full merger between Nissan and Renault.
"This is political," Ghosn said. "I am innocent of all the charges, and I can prove it now."
A potential FCA merger might have been a contributing factor to Nissan's unease, he indicated, but his arrest disrupted that. "In 2017, the alliance was the number one automotive group. Three companies growing, profitable. We were preparing to add Fiat Chrysler to the group because I was negotiating with John Elkann for Fiat Chrysler to join,” he said.
“I had contact with FCA. We had a lot of understanding, we have very good dialogue. Unfortunately, I was arrested before we could come to a conclusion,” Ghosn said. A meeting scheduled for January 2019 was intended to conclude a deal. FCA ultimately forged a merger with PSA, maker of Peugeot.
“The alliance missed the unmissable, which is Fiat Chrysler. That is unbelievable, they go with PSA. How can you miss that huge opportunity to become the dominant player in the industry?” Ghosn said. “Who is the winner of all this?”
“It’s a great opportunity for PSA, it’s a big waste for Renault."
In making his accusations against Nissan, he showed projections of many documents, but they were too small for the assembled reporters to read. However, he said, "There are many more documents to come."
He invoked a well-known act of Japanese aggression by comparing his surprise arrest to the country's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Ghosn described the conditions of his incarceration, including months-long stretches in prison, solitary confinement for as much as six days at a time, and a "tiny cell without a window."
“You are going to die in Japan, or you are going to have to get out,” Ghosn said, describing his feelings. “I felt like the hostage of a country I served for 17 years."
"They knew that by not allowing me to have a normal life, they were breaking me," Ghosn said, explaining why he feels he wasn't allowed to see his wife during his time in custody.
"Why have they extended the investigation timeline, why have they rearrested me? Why were they so intent on preventing me from talking and setting out my facts?" Ghosn said
“There is no democratic country I know where you go to jail for these kinds of accusations, even if they were right,” he said.
Japanese authorities told Ghosn's legal team that the isolation was intended to prevent evidence tampering. Tokyo prosecutors on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife, Carole, for alleged perjury.
Ghosn insists that his family had no role in, or knowledge of, his plot to escape Japanese house arrest.
Japan's Ministry of Justice has said it will try to find a way to bring Ghosn back from Lebanon, even though it has no extradition treaty with Japan.
Turkish and Japanese authorities are investigating how Ghosn was smuggled out to Beirut. Interpol has issued a "red notice" seeking his arrest.
Ghosn's news conference marks the latest twist in a 14-month saga that has shaken the global car industry, jeopardized the Renault-Nissan alliance of which Ghosn was the architect and increased scrutiny of Japan's judicial system. Ghosn pointed out that since he was deposed, Nissan has lost $10 billion in market capitalization, and Renault $5 billion.
Nissan said an internal investigation found that Ghosn had engaged in personal use of company money and had under-reported his income in violation of Japanese law.