Fugitive former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn vows to clear name, compares his arrest to Pearl Harbor

Speaking publicly about his ordeal for the first time, Ghosn told a press conference he was not fleeing justice but escaping injustice.

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By Patrick Smith and Rachel Elbaum

Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chairman who fled Japan while facing four criminal charges, has vowed to clear his name and said his detention was the result of the actions of "a handful of unscrupulous, vindictive individuals at Nissan" who were working with Japanese prosecutors.

Speaking publicly about his ordeal for the first time, Ghosn told a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday that he was not fleeing justice but escaping injustice. He claimed that prosecutors repeatedly told him to confess rather than prolong the case.

The ex-Nissan boss fled to Lebanon last Monday from Japan where he was out on bail and awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, including the concealment of millions in income.

Ghosn's lawyers say the allegations are a result of trumped-up charges rooted in a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to oust him to prevent a fuller merger with one of Nissan's alliance partners, Renault SA of France.

"I'm here to clear my name and to pronounce something clearly and emphatically something that was interpreted as a heresy in the Japanese legal system: These allegations are untrue and I should have never been arrested in the first place," Ghosn said Wednesday.

"This was the most difficult decision of my life," Ghosn said of his daring escape. "But let’s not forget I was facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 percent and you can bet the number is higher for foreigners," he added.

Ghosn described his 130 days in a Japanese jail, during which he claims to have been mostly kept in solitary confinement and given 30 minutes outside his cell per day, with no access to visitors and two showers a week.

Mystery still surrounds the details of Ghosn's escape from Japan, which reportedly involved him being smuggled onto a plane while hiding in a large black box. Ghosn declined to address the finer points of his now-famous flight, but acknowledged the huge media interest in the plot to get him to Lebanon.

Japan’s transport minister announced Tuesday that all large baggage carried into private jets would undergo mandatory security checks.

Ghosn said he was shocked to be arrested in Japan on Nov. 19 last year, comparing the surprise attack to the Japanese ambush of Pearl Harbor. "People say, 'you didn’t look at this, you didn’t suspect this?' It was a colleague in the U.S. who said 'Did you see Pearl Harbor?' I didn’t notice it because it was planned and confidential and secret."

He also claimed the arrest was planned in conjunction with Nissan, saying, "The collusion between Nissan and prosecutors is everywhere," he said. "The only people who don’t see it, maybe, are the people in Japan."

Before his arrest, Ghosn was credited with leading Nissan from near-bankruptcy to growth.

Ghosn, 65, was born in Brazil but has family ancestry in Lebanon and holds a Lebanese passport. One of his lawyers told reporters in Tokyo that his legal team still had custody of his three passports — French, Brazilian and Lebanese — as required by the terms of his bail, according to Reuters.

In a sign of the gravity that Japan places on Ghosn’s escape, the Japanese ambassador to Lebanon on Tuesday met the country's president to ask for cooperation, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. This is the first known meeting between the president and a Japanese diplomat since Ghosn arrived in the country.

In Beirut, the justice minister confirmed that prosecutors had received a "red notice" arrest warrant for Ghosn from Interpol and would take the necessary action.

"Ghosn is a Lebanese citizen and has the right to be treated on this basis in terms of the competent judiciary and applicable laws, and his entry into Lebanese territory is legal," the Lebanese Justice Ministry said.

Nissan has said that its planned legal action against Ghosn would not be affected by his flight from Japan. The company said an internal investigation has found “incontrovertible evidence of various acts of misconduct by Ghosn.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Tokyo prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife on suspicion of perjury. Prosecutors said in a statement that Carole Ghosn gave false testimony to a court last year in her husband's case about the transfer of money from one company to another that allegedly caused losses to Nissan.

Arata Yamamoto contributed.