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Freedom, no matter how it is achieved, is always freedom

Richard Quest
Filed on January 9, 2020 | Last updated on January 9, 2020 at 08.24 pm

Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Renault-Nissan, remains combative and maintains his innocence after his flight to Lebanon.

I want to start at the very point that you don't want to talk about, which of course, is how you left Japan and came to Lebanon. I know you're not going to give me any details. But can you say if the rumours and suggestions are substantially true?

Well, there are many rumors. For example, at the beginning they said that there is a van, which came to my house in Tokyo for Christmas and, you know this van a kind of rehearsal. Then I went into the box, they came, took me from the house, et cetera.
The whole story is wrong. Why? Because the persecutor went to my apartment. There is a monitoring of all the people who are in the house and they said, no.

So I'll clarify. The rumours and suggestion that I'm talking about involves a train trip to Osaka, a hotel, a box and a flight and a- two private jets via Turkey. Is that substantially accurate?

I will make no comment on this. I'm going to tell you why, Richard. Because, obviously I was lucky to have people who supported me in this. Because you know, when you are in a situation where you're in trouble with justice, you don't have too much candidates to help you. I was lucky, and I need to, as much as possible, protect them.

Right, those people, some of them, are facing criminal proceedings, potentially, in Turkey. How do you feel about that?

I feel bad about it.

But there's not much more you can do, really, is there?

Well, you know, we knew from the beginning what are the risks, you know, involved in an operation like this. We all knew that. I knew what my risks were. I knew the risks of all the people who supported the operation.

What about Mr. Kelly, who remains in jail - released on bail, I beg your pardon - in Japan. There's a sort of feeling of, you got out and he's left behind to carry the can.

Well, at first I was not able, as you know, in Japan, to contact Greg. I was forbidden completely. My bail condition and his bail condition forbid completely any contact between us. So the only contact possible was through to our lawyers.
So even if I wanted to help Greg, I couldn't.

But is there a feeling - can you understand the feeling that you've left him behind to face the music alone?

I'm not sure about that, because I didn't leave Japan to hide somewhere. I left Japan because I'm looking for justice and I want to clear my name whihc means I would be looking for a country where I could have this case tried, but with a trial respecting the rights of the defense.

So to clarify this, you are willing to stand trial for these allegations.

Yes. I will.

But would you accept that any trial would have to be under Japanese law, in the sense of that's the law that you broke. Maybe the system of justice - this would be different. I'm thinking of the - there's a good precedent you may be familiar with, of course, the Lockerbie bomber, who was tried in The Hague under Scottish law. Is that the sort of thing that you're thinking of?

No. I'm thinking about, you know, depending on the country where this would take place, every country would accept a different kind of trial. The only thing I'm looking for is a trial where the rules or the rights of the defense would be respected, which I thought in Japan wasn't the case.

One thing seems clear, is that you are regarded as a fugitive by others in the world. And that's not going to change, is it?

Well, we have to explain. You know, people don't like a fugitive when the fugitive is escaping justice.

It's a different opinion when a fugitive is escaping injustice. You know, I don't think that people look at people who run from North Korea, or from Vietnam, or from Russia under the communist regime as people are running from justice. There was practically zero chance I would get a fair trial in Japan. With a zero chance of getting a fair trial, I don't think of this as justice - I was not running from justice, I was looking for justice.

At what point did you decide you'd have to go?

A few weeks ago - a few weeks ago, and what lead me to that is that everything I was seeing in the pre-trial was leading to the fact that the trial will not be fair.

Second, I was hoping that they would fix the date of the trial. It was not fixed. Until now, I don't know. Greg Kelly doesn't know when his trial starts, 13 months after - 13 months after we'd been arrested

And third, the ban on my wife, which really was something that I could not understand. For nine months, I can't see her, I can't talk to her, and they told me that this may continue for another one year and a half.

Do you accept that you broke the Japanese law in leaving that way?

I accept the fact that I broke the Japanese law by leaving this way, yes.

Today they've said - the prosecutor said, as a result of your press conference in Beirut, you failed to justify your act, you're indeed a flight risk - which indeed you were, because you fled - and his one-sided criticism of the Japanese justice system is totally unacceptable.

It's laughable. It's laughable. I have been under their control for all this time, as you will write. They put on me vague conditions which are very strict. I didn't have a phone, I could not go on the Internet, I couldn't see my wife. I was monitored all the time. I had followers all the time.

So in a certain way, when they have a suspicion on somebody, what they would like is to keep you in prison until you meet the judge.

Turning to the allegations. You have - you gave a very full-throated defense of those allegations today. Do you know - you gave a very full-throated defense of the allegations. What is it that you did that so angered the people in Japan - that in your view the prosecutor and company colluded? What did you do?

Well, they didn't like the fact that I was ready to act on the part of the management because of the decline in the performance of the company.

Fire the CEO of Nissan...

That's it. The second one is they didn't like the fact that I was going to create a holding company, that would create one company, one share, one board, but still keeping the autonomy of Nissan and the autonomy Renault intact.

They didn't like the system. And they said, why do we have to make this kind of concession...get rid of the guy and then we keep our organization the way it is. And then, frankly, they were successful in doing that.

But when you hear of the allegations - the houses, the planes, do you think you - to use the phrase - you pushed the boat a bit far? You took advantage of the system?

Absolutely not - absolutely not. Well everybody was happy that I was CEO of three companies. But being CEO of three companies means extensive use of the plane.

It means that your private life is reduced to the minimal. From time to time when you're able to have a moment for you, it's very limited - and all of the things. So everybody was happy when I was managing the three companies. And now all of a sudden all the suspicion came.

By the way, everything about the plane, everything about the houses, is not in the charges. I mean, the charges in Japan have nothing to do with that. The charges in Japan are about under-reporting compensation that were not fixed, that were not decided, and that were not paid.

When did you - did you ever feel like you were going to confess?

I didn't trust them. I didn't trust them that they would stop doing this. I didn't trust them that you would get any bailout. I didn't trust them.

I think they were not here to establish the truth. They were here to establish a strong case in their favour.

Would you have made a deal?

Well, it depends on the deal.

Two - two more items to talk about. So you make it to Lebanon and the country's in turmoil. It's seeking a government.

It's looking for leadership.

Straightforward, Carlos, would you accept some role in the Lebanese government?

No. I say it now, I say it before, and I'll say it in the future. I'm not interested in a political career. I'm ready to put my confidence and my know-how helping politicians succeed, but I'm not interested in a political career.

So, let's be clear. If you are invited to be president, you'd say no? If the president asked you to become -- to make a cross-party government, you'd say no?


Will it feels like you're in a very pleasant sort of prison being here? You can't go anywhere, except maybe to France or Brazil, and you'd have difficulty getting to both and you'd be taking an enormous personal risk.

So, would you take that risk? Would you go to France?

Well, it depends for what. Depends on what is your perspective.

You know, obviously you're telling me my situation today is not perfect, it is not ideal. I agree with you. But it has to be compared to my situation before. My situation before was being in a prison, in a different prison in Japan...without my friends, without my family, without my community, where I don't speak the language, et cetera.

So, now I'm in Lebanon, a country that I like, where I have friends and I have family. So, yes I may be constrained to Lebanon for awhile, but I'm intending, I'm intending to...for a while...

You say for a while, in that sort of tantalizing way, as if there's a plan.

Sure, I know I can challenge the red notice of Interpol. I can challenge it. I have the right to challenge it. And I'm going to challenge it, because I think this case is political.

I want to finish off, because I know time is running out, talking about the alliance. The alliance that you put together, its virtually falling apart.

It's true.

That suggests it could only stay together with the 'dictator' Carlos Ghosn.

I don't think so. First, I don't think a dictator could have made an alliance, I don't think so. I think a dictator would have not been able to create a space where people can come together, even though they are coming from different countries and different cultures.

This requires a lot of skills in terms of negotiation, pressuring people to come to the table because it was in their own interest. So a dictator would not have been able to do that.

Now, let me go to the second thing. Yes, the alliance is not going well. It's not because I am indispensable, I think - but I think the methods that are being used today in the alliance are absolutely not efficient. And that's what I avoided.

I realize, you know, the alliance is your life's work - professionally. Is there just not even a scintilla of schadenfreude at the way in which they've got themselves into a mess? Nissan's profits are down so heavily. Renault failed to pick up Fiat Chrysler. Mitsubishi hasn't turned around.

Well, without any doubt they - you know, many people said we want to turn the Ghosn page.

The Ghosn page was profit, growth, strategic dynamics, technological innovation and alliance that works.

But today when we look at the situation, yes, they turned the page. There's no more profit. The growth is down. There is no more technical innovation. There's no more strategic initiative. The only strategic initiative was Fiat Chrysler, which was lost and alliance not working.

The moment the plane is in international space and you pretty much know it's going to land in Lebanon, what was that moment like?

Well, as you know, it was not going to land in Lebanon, it was going to land somewhere else, but I...felt relieved. I felt relieved. Yes, I felt relieved. I felt great. And, you know - the first thought I said is, finally, I'm going to be able to see my wife. That was my first thought.

I'm just going to go for this and hope that you'll give me an answer. What was it like in the packing case?

Look, freedom. Freedom, no matter how it is achieved, is always freedom.


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