Carlos Ghosn talks about his stay in a Japanese prison and his life as a wanted fugitive


Carlos Ghosn is in a much nicer prison today. The former head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and now wanted fugitive fled the Japanese justice system for the safety of Lebanon in a dramatic escape turned to films. He has left a prison system condemned internationally for human rights violations and will not return to Japan; Lebanon does not extradite its citizens.

While Ghosn finds his wife in their home in Lebanon, he cannot travel: a red notice issued by Interpol for his extradition at the request of Japan makes him a prisoner inside the country. Still, the situation is significantly better than the alternative for the man who ran one of the world’s largest auto conglomerates until his surprise arrest on November 19, 2018, for underreporting income.

In a video interview with Motor Trend From his home in Beirut, Ghosn says he is physically fine after his ordeal, despite being isolated while imprisoned in a cell with a straw mat and a rolled up mattress. He says he had to sit on the floor for hours, which caused him numb legs and back pain, had 30 minutes of fresh air on weekdays, and suffered long daily interrogations without legal representation. “I don’t want my worst enemies to go through the system,” he said, calling it a joke, a masquerade and a spectacle.

In his new book, Broken alliances (one of three books he’s involved in), Ghosn says he’s hit rock bottom mentally after a month in a place where suicide isn’t an option. “Everything is done to lead you to despair. But you are prevented from committing the act,” he wrote.

Today, he says he realizes how rich his life was after losing everything: freedom, family, jobs, human rights. When a small part is restored, you are happier than you were with everything before. Instead of bitterness, he feels immense gratitude for simple things like waking up in the morning and having coffee with his wife or calling his children.

Ghosn was on bail and under house arrest when he escaped in December 2019. “I knew that if I was going to stay in Japan, I would die there,” he says. “They would never let me go… it was a 1% chance of being alive again, versus a 99% chance that if you stay you will die a dog’s death.”

Being famous made Ghosn easily recognizable; he was always followed and there were cameras everywhere. His escape was scheduled for December, when temporary workers fill many positions. It was smuggled in a box of musical equipment on a private plane to Turkey, where it boarded a flight to Lebanon. “I made all the decisions with care,” he says. “I thought I was going to do it.”

Escape to Japan is rare; Ghosn is not aware of a successful plan until his own. This fact apparently worked in his favor, as Japanese officials were extremely cautious in all other aspects of his case but “never thought I could get out of Japan,” he says. “For them it was impossible. And it was my [salvation]. “

The only reason to stay in jail would have been to have his day in court and to expose a biased justice system which he says has colluded with Nissan to arrest him and charge him with minor financial charges and doubtful.

Prosecutors were clear: if he spoke to the press, they would bring new charges against him. They kept their word. When he was briefly released on bail in April 2018, he scheduled a press conference a week later. It never happened. A week later, he was back in jail facing new charges of Nissan embezzlement.

Ghosn uses books – including one co-authored with his wife, Carole, about their “year in hell” – as well as interviews, documentary, TV series and speaking engagements to tell his side of the story after being muzzled and painted as a greedy dictator. Once safe in Lebanon, “My most urgent task was to say whatever was on my mind, and I was not able to express it,” he said. “I was the victim of a massive character assassination for 13 months.”

Some in the auto industry see Ghosn as a victim of a coup. Nissan was happy to form a partnership with Renault in 1999 when it was in serious financial difficulty. Under Ghosn he was restored to health and he was a hero in Japan. But according to several reports, with Nissan’s return to profitability, Japanese nationals wanted greater independence and a rebalancing of control within the Alliance at a time when Renault wanted to cement the terms of its own control.

Why wouldn’t Nissan simply fire or retire the then 64-year-old executive rather than carry out the campaign of arrest and defamation against him? Ghosn claims it’s because Nissan’s board should explain to the Japanese public that he, a business model with a cult-like cult, was in fact a greedy villain. “So they came to the conclusion that the only way for them to do anything is to completely knock me down, totally neutralize me so that I can’t retaliate,” he said.

At the time of his escape, Ghosn faced four counts which, if convicted, would carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and the accused remains convinced today that prosecutors in would have found more, extending his prison sentence to up to 20 years, when he would be 85 years old.

Ghosn’s lawyers have repeatedly asked Japan to allow him to stand trial in Lebanon – ending his ordeal if he is acquitted – but there has been no response. “They want to take me prisoner for life by refusing to send the file,” he said. Its legal team also wants Interpol to drop its red notice, arguing that this is a political issue that does not require the agency’s involvement. The process could take years, and Ghosn wants to travel to Brazil to visit his ailing mother.

Ghosn is the first to admit that he has few allies. He was not from Japan or France, and he “didn’t spend time making connections or friends.” Running three companies, he says he did not have time for politics or to attend receptions, official trips or social engagements, so he had no change with the government or them. companies.

His biggest regret: turning down the offer to be CEO of General Motors in 2009. Ghosn turned it down because he felt compelled to see Renault and Nissan go through the recession that forced GM and Chrysler to file for bankruptcy. “It was the biggest mistake of my life,” he says.

Ghosn now watches from the sidelines as the Alliance spits out. Many non-Japanese executives were fired or abandoned after her arrest, and the Alliance is falling behind in areas it once led. Nissan began building the Electric Leaf in 2010; Today everyone has ambitious electric vehicle deployment plans, and despite their lead, Nissan is not ahead of the pack. “The Alliance today is a zombie,” says Ghosn. “They are not willing to work together because the trust factor is gone… everyone is lying to everyone.” He predicts that the Alliance will continue to unravel and eventually dissolve.


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