TOKYO—Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of auto giant Nissan, who was under house arrest in Japan until he escaped on Dec. 29, came out swinging at his two-hour press conference in Beirut today.
In an effort to get back in shape after more than four months altogether in solitary confinement, he started training in boxing this summer in a gym in this city’s Minato-ward. A 45-year-old banker who trained at the same place told The Daily Beast, “For a 65-year-old guy, he had quite a punch. Which is to say, when you hit the boxing mitt right, it makes a kind of delightful thwacking sound. That’s a good hit. Ghosn was making a lot of thwacks.”
Today, Ghosn was parrying, jabbing, and hitting back with dignity and grace. There were no knockout blows and he pulled his punches on the issues of Japanese government involvement in his prosecution for alleged financial misconduct, but he was clearly on the offense and no one was able to back him into a corner.
The press conference started at 10 p.m. Japan time and was watched worldwide. He had been scheduled to face trial in 2021.
Ghosn tried to hold a press conference in April last year after more than three months in detention after the initial 2018 arrest. He was immediately re-arrested by prosecutors and put back in solitary, in an apparent attempt to muzzle him. He pointed out that the Tokyo prosecutors issuing an arrest warrant for his wife, Carole, on Tuesday appeared to be another attempt to make him shut up.
After being kept quiet for months by Japan’s prosecutors, under a Damocles sword threatening that if he held a press conference, he would be re-arrested and thrown into what he called “the pig box,” Ghosn spoke out today.
Ghosn asserted that he had “actual evidence” and documents that would show that Nissan executives had planned his downfall in conjunction with the Japanese government. He expressed his belief, at the conference, as he expressed to me last July, that he was set up for a downfall because Japan did not want Renault to take over Nissan. He named several Nissan executives as being instrumental in the attempt to put him in prison for the rest of his life.
Ghosn said his treatment in a Japanese jail was brutal. He was confined to a cell with a tiny window and only allowed to shower twice a week, in solitary confinement. He was questioned eight hours a day without a lawyer present, or being informed of the charges against him. The prosecutors kept shouting at him to confess and told him if he would only confess that he would go free.
“I was brutally taken away from my work as I knew it, ripped from my work, my family and my friends,” he said.
Ironically, the Japanese media, which except for a few periodicals, kept leaking information from Nissan and the prosecutors without scrutiny, was supposed to be completely shut out of the press conference. That was not quite the case but the usual swarm of Japanese media was not to be seen.
Ghosn questioned whether his prosecution had been good for anyone. He pointed out the value of Nissan’s shares had fallen severely and so had confidence in the automaker.
When questioned as to how far the alleged conspiracy against him went, he minced his words and said, “I don’t think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was involved…”
The Japanese government has been placing great pressure on the government of Lebanon to keep Ghosn in line, and requesting his extradition.
When a Japanese reporter indirectly accused him of resenting Japan, Ghosn replied that he loved Japan and that he would hope the country could be improved, to a place where justice would be evenly distributed.
In addition, after enduring months of being written up poorly by the Japanese press, he pointed out to the Japanese reporter talking to him that for a prosecutor to talk to the press is illegal but it happens all the time—accusing the prosecutors of also breaking the laws that they are supposed to uphold. It was an uppercut that made the Japanese press wince, from across the globe.
Ghosn kept pounding in one point again and again: He was willing to face a trial but only in a venue where he could have a fair shot of proving his innocence. In Japan, with its 99.4 percent conviction rate, it seems like the fight would be fixed before it even started.