It was part corporate presentation, part legal defense, part rambling tirade.
For more than two hours on Wednesday, Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan executive who fled house arrest in Japan and surfaced in Lebanon last month, launched an impassioned defense of his decision to escape, portraying himself as the victim of a rigged justice system and a corporate coup by disloyal underlings.
Mr. Ghosn, the former head of an auto empire that spanned continents, was arrested in late 2018 and was facing charges of financial wrongdoing. The reporters who gathered to hear Mr. Ghosn speak in Beirut had hoped for an account of his daring international escape — a dash across Japan to a chartered jet that carried him out of the country.
Instead, they were treated to a wide-ranging and sometimes hard-to-follow defense against the charges that Japanese prosecutors had leveled against him. He attacked the authorities in Tokyo as well as executives at Nissan.
Japanese prosecutors responded on Wednesday with a statement issued soon after Mr. Ghosn’s conference ended, saying that he had been deemed a flight risk, which “is obvious from the fact that he actually fled and illegally departed from the country.”
“His statements during his press conference today failed to justify his acts,” the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said.
Mr. Ghosn, speaking in English, French, Arabic and Portugese during the news conference, said he was the victim of “character assassination” and “political persecution.”
Here are the highlights:
- Mr. Ghosn looks toward his ‘Mission Impossible.’
- He treated the conference like a boardroom.
- Nissan ‘colluded’ with prosecutors, he said.
- Mr. Ghosn says he was a victim of ‘character assassination.’
- Mr. Ghosn: ‘I did not escape justice. I fled injustice.’
- Japanese officials said Mr. Ghosn’s claims were false.
Mr. Ghosn looks toward his ‘Mission Impossible.’
As an international fugitive, Mr. Ghosn faces an uncertain future. He is intent on clearing his name, but it is unclear what legal route he could take.
“I am used to what you call Mission Impossible,” he said, responding to a question from a reporter about whether he will spend the rest of his life as a fugitive. He added: “I would be willing to stand trial anywhere where I think I could have a fair trial.”
Mr. Ghosn is a citizen of France, Brazil and Lebanon. Asked whether he would consider going to France, Mr. Ghosn said he was content in Lebanon. “I’m very happy to be here,” he said. “I’m with my friends, I’m with my family, my kids can come visit me. I can use the phone, I can use the internet.”
In recent days, officials in France have hardened their stance on Mr. Ghosn, calling him a “defendant like any other” and saying he should face justice in a court of law.
He treated the conference like a boardroom.
Mr. Ghosn began his speech as if he were giving a corporate presentation, promising a point-by-point defense and projecting documents onto a screen.
He outlined the minutiae of the case against him and discussed specific emails and statements to prosecutors, complete with a presentation of documents to support his argument. But there was a problem: The text was too small for anyone in the room to read.
He noted that both of his companies had fared worse without him. “By the way, the market cap decrease of Nissan is more than $10 billion,” he said. “By the way, Renault is not better. … The market cap of Renault went down by more than $5 billion.”
“As a shareholder of Nissan, I say who is protecting me?” he said.
Nissan ‘colluded’ with prosecutors, he said.
Mr. Ghosn pushed his theory that his arrest was the work of Nissan executives, saying he thought his arrest was motivated by the fact that Nissan’s performance had begun to decline.
And, he said, the charge of underreporting income isn’t one that should have landed him in jail.
Mr. Ghosn has also claimed the charges against him were an effort by Nissan and Japanese officials to prevent a merger with Renault.
Taking questions from reporters, he said that rather than a merger, he had proposed creating a holding company that would have had one board of directors but allowed Nissan and Renault to continue operating as separate companies.
Mr. Ghosn says he was a victim of ‘character assassination.’
He defended a lavish party that he held at the Palace of Versailles in 2016 that has been the subject of an investigation by French prosecutors. At question is whether the party was a misuse of company money, because it coincided with Mr. Ghosn’s wedding to his second wife, Carole, and with her 50th birthday.
Mr. Ghosn said the party emerged from a pre-existing relationship between Versailles and the auto alliance.
Still, he said, “Obviously this is not a very cheap party.”
One of the major public criticisms of Mr. Ghosn has involved houses that reports have said Nissan purchased for Mr. Ghosn’s benefit. The properties include those in Rio de Janeiro and Beirut.
On Wednesday, Mr. Ghosn argued that the houses were purchased with the assent of top officials at Nissan. He displayed documents that he said showed that Greg Kelly, his onetime lieutenant, and Hiroto Saikawa, his successor as chief executive and one of the company officials he blames for his downfall, signed off on the purchases.
The criminal charges against Mr. Ghosn in Japan do not include the properties. But Mr. Ghosn said the accusations were leaked as part of a Nissan smear campaign.
“This is part of the character assassination,” he said.
Mr. Ghosn: ‘I did not escape justice. I fled injustice.’
Since his arrest, Mr. Ghosn and his family have denounced the Japanese justice system, arguing that the former auto executive had been a victim of “injustice and political persecution.” His comments followed a similar line.
“I have not experienced a moment of freedom since Nov. 19, 2018,” he told the room of reporters. “It is impossible to express the depth of the aggravation and my profound appreciation once again to be able to be reunited with my family and loved ones.”
Mr. Ghosn defended his decision to flee Japan rather than face trial.
“I did not escape justice. I fled injustice and political persecution,” he said. “I was left with no other choice but to protect myself and my family.”
Mr. Ghosn also assailed his treatment by prosecutors.
Japanese officials said Mr. Ghosn’s claims were false.
Prosecutors in Tokyo on Wednesday issued a lengthy statement saying that Mr. Ghosn’s claim of a conspiracy between them and Nissan is “categorically false and completely contrary to fact.”
The statement said Mr. Ghosn’s treatment reflected the fact that he was a flight risk.
Earlier in the day, the authorities entered the offices of Mr. Ghosn’s lawyers in Japan with a search warrant. But the law firm of Junichiro Hironaka, Mr. Ghosn’s top lawyer in Japan, said that lawyers kept the authorities from confiscating two computers that Mr. Ghosn had used.
A crush of reporters packed the news conference.
Mr. Ghosn walked with his wife, Carole, into a frenzy of camera operators in a plain white conference room in Beirut, with a burst of flash bulbs going off. Organizers were pleading with the camera operators to back off. A burly, bearded bodyguard stood next to Mr. Ghosn at the lectern.
Before he emerged, more than 100 journalists from across the world had jostled to get inside the conference room at the Lebanese Press Syndicate. A security team checked IDs and bags, and Lebanese reporters interviewed their Japanese counterparts about Mr. Ghosn’s escape from Tokyo.
How did Mr. Ghosn escape from Japan?
Mr. Ghosn, 65, a celebrity in Japan and a hero to many in Lebanon, oversaw a turnaround at Nissan starting in the late 1990s and had the rare position of running two major companies simultaneously: Nissan and Renault, based in France.
Born in Brazil and raised in Lebanon, Mr. Ghosnjoined Renault as an executive in the 1990s.
But his career collapsed in late 2018, when he was arrested by the Japanese authorities and later charged with underreporting his compensation and shifting personal financial losses to Nissan. Nissan had also been indicted on charges of improperly reporting Mr. Ghosn’s income — and had said it would cooperate with prosecutors.
Mr. Ghosn was held for more than 100 days, after which he was in and out of jail. He was released after he posted bail and agreed to strict conditions: He could not leave Tokyo, and his movements would be monitored, although he was not required to wear an ankle bracelet.
After he was arrested again in April, prosecutors imposed another condition for his release: Mr. Ghosn was forbidden from communicating with his wife.
No official account of how Mr. Ghosn escaped has emerged yet. But reporting by The New York Times and the news media in multiple countries has revealed a basic outline of what likely took place.
On the afternoon of Dec. 29, he walked out of his home in Tokyo and took a bullet train to Osaka, about 340 miles southwest of the capital. Then he boarded a corporate jet at Kansai International Airport, hidden inside a box designed for concert equipment. He landed at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, switched planes and flew to Beirut.
When he spoke on Wednesday, Mr. Ghosn was quick to tell reporters that he was not planning to talk about the escape.
“I am here to talk about why I left,” he said.
Kevin Granville, Carlos Tejada and Geneva Abdul contributed reporting.