Over a year since his initial arrest and less than two weeks since his daring escape to Beirut, Carlos Ghosn is set to break his silence Wednesday evening Japan time at a news conference in Lebanon.
The 65-year-old former chairman of Nissan Motor Co., accused of financial wrongdoings including embezzlement, is expected to denounce Nissan as well as the Japanese legal system — in part to gain sympathy from the international public.
But whether he is culpable of the charges leveled against him is another matter. Alongside his audacious escape and criticism of Japan, attention will be paid over coming days as to whether Ghosn is able to present evidence to refute the allegations made against him.
Ghosn was indicted on charges of underreporting his compensation and embezzling Nissan’s money for his personal use.
On the former allegation, the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Office alleges that Ghosn deliberately hid about ¥9.1 billion from fiscal 2010 through to fiscal 2017. The defense counterclaimed that Ghosn was only promised to receive the compensation after his retirement and that the payment was never finalized.
Under the law, an individual has to report the compensation figure to the authorities once it is determined, even if the money won’t be received until a later date.
Regarding the misappropriation charges, he is accused of committing two financial crimes, via Saudi Arabia and Oman, respectively.
In the first case, prosecutors say Ghosn made Nissan subrogate some of his personal losses in currency derivatives trading, incurring damage on the automaker.
When he suffered a massive loss due to the 2008 financial crisis, via trading between a bank and his personal asset management firm, Ghosn moved the rights of a trade contract from the asset management firm to Nissan. As a result, the prosecutors alleged, Nissan sustained ¥1.8 billion in damages.
He was subsequently alleged to have arranged ¥1.6 billion in payments, with money derived from Nissan, to a firm run by a Saudi businessman Khaled Juffali as a reward for helping him during the process of transferring the rights.
Prosecutors also alleged Ghosn funneled a Nissan subsidiary’s payments to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles, a Nissan distributor in Oman. Some of the money — about ¥560 million — had been siphoned off by Ghosn and sent to Good Faith Investments, a Lebanese firm he effectively controlled, for his own personal use, including the purchase of a luxury yacht.
Japanese media outlets have reported that some of the money flowing into the Lebanese investment firm was sent to a paper company headed by his wife in the Virgin Islands as well as an investment firm established by his son in the U.S.
Renault SA, Nissan’s French alliance partner where Ghosn was chief executive and chairman, uncovered €11 million (about ¥1.33 billion) in questionable spending linked to Ghosn at Renault-Nissan B.V., an Amsterdam-based joint venture, after an internal audit. In September last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined Ghosn $1 million for not reporting $140 million in his expected retirement income.
Nissan on Monday stressed it was right to remove him after an internal investigation found “incontrovertible evidence of various acts of misconduct” and vowed to pursue legal action regardless of his flight.
The defense has vigorously pushed back on these allegations, saying that Ghosn neither inflicted a loss on Nissan nor violated the law in his payment to Juffali. There wasn’t any payment, directly or indirectly, from the Oman distributor to Ghosn nor his family, the defense said.
“Nissan’s claim that it conducted ‘a robust, thorough internal investigation’ is a gross perversion of the truth,” his defense team said in a statement before the Wednesday news conference. “Rather, the facts demonstrate that investigation was never about finding the truth.”
The prosecutors, the defense claims, exploited Japan’s new plea bargaining law to obtain false testimony against Ghosn and ignored wrongdoing by other Nissan executives.
The defense also alleges that prosecutors directed Nissan employees to break into Ghosn’s house to confiscate personal goods, seize documents protected by attorney-client privilege, take his wife’s personal possessions and leak information to the media to create an incriminating narrative.
Ghosn in April was going to have a news conference “to tell the truth about what’s happening,” but it was canceled after his fourth arrest.
In a prepared video message released by his lawyers, he rebuked “selfish” Nissan executives fearful of forging ahead in its alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Renault.
Ghosn jumped bail and fled to Lebanon in late December, justifying the move by saying that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Japan. He reportedly took a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka before concealing himself in a box made for musical instruments and fleeing on a private jet to Lebanon via Turkey.
Significance of Wednesday’s news conference
Wednesday’s news conference was set to be his first opportunity to speak about what happened. The goal for Ghosn is to tell his side of the story on his terms, said Yu Taniguchi, editor-in-chief of monthly public relations magazine Senden Kaigi and an associate professor at the Graduate School of Information and Communication in Tokyo.
“He must have a strong desire to assert his claims. He was even willing to break the law to be free,” Taniguchi said.