“Plot and treason get the blame” for the arrest of Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn, the 64-year-old executive said during his first public comments since being dragged off his corporate jet on Nov. 19.
Ghosn has been held in solitary confinement ever since and looked gaunt during a court hearing earlier this month. Japanese prosecutors have successfully argued against bail for the exec, even though co-defendant Greg Kelly was released on Christmas Day.
Until now, Ghosn has only been allowed to meet with his lawyers, embassy officials and prosecutors who were interrogating him daily and trying to get him to sign a confession written in Japanese, a language Ghosn does not speak.
The case has generated worldwide interest – and plenty of skepticism. As TheDetroitBureau.com has reported, outside observers, as well as some corporate sources, have questioned whether the case is actually something of a palace coup.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa has done little to hide his apparent desire to change the nature of the relationship between the second-largest Japanese automaker and its French partner Renault – something expected to be on the agenda when Saikawa and his Renault counterpart meet in Europe this week.
(Ghosn denied bail, now in third month of detention. Click Here for the story.)
During a 20-minute interview with Japanese newspaper, the Nikkei, Ghosn did little to abuse observers of that perception.
In a news conference after Ghosn’s arrest, CEO Saikawa emphasized his belief that Ghosn had become “too powerful” in his multiple roles as CEO of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, chief executive of Renault and chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi.
“People translated strong leadership to (mean) dictator, to distort reality,” he told the Nikkei. It was for the “purpose of getting rid of me,” the Brazilian-born executive told the Nikkei reporting team. He went on to suggest that that the effort to force him out was the result of “plot and treason.”
What’s unquestionable is that it came as a massive come-down for a high-flying executive once so popular in Japan he became the star of a comic book series. It focused on Ghosn’s role as the front man for Renault’s $6 billion bailout of the then-floundering Nissan. He subsequently became the Japanese automaker’s CEO. Ghosn helped put together what was initially the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Mitsubishi came on as the third leg of the partnership two years ago when Nissan took a controlling stake in the smaller Japanese manufacturer.
But Nissan claims that Ghosn abused his authority in a variety of ways uncovered by a months-long investigation triggered by what it has described as a “whistleblower.” So far, prosecutors have accused Ghosn of concealing $88 million in income and other financial irregularities, with other charges possible.
Kelly, who was arrested at the same time as Ghosn, was charged with assisting Ghosn in the scheme. Nissan, meanwhile, now faces charges, as well.
(Click Here for our coverage of Ghosn’s first court appearance.)
Saikawa, a one-time Ghosn protégé, has taken hits from those who question the handling of the case. That includes another former Ghosn associate, Jose Munoz, who quit two weeks ago after being pushed into overseeing an ongoing probe of internal corruption at Nissan.
“Unfortunately, Nissan is currently involved in matters that have and will continue to divert its focus,” Munoz wrote on his Linked-In page following his decision to leave the automaker.
A separate source with deep ties to Nissan told TheDetroitBureau.com that “They have 100 people assigned to dig up dirt on people and pressure them to either leave under disgrace or turn state witness against Ghosn,” said the industry veteran who has spent decades working on both sides of the Pacific. “Jose wasn’t going to do that. He felt they were going to fire him. To retain his dignity and to avoid a public fight he went ahead and quit.”
Nissan has dismissed such criticism, as well as Ghosn’s repeated claims of innocence.
“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly,” company spokesman Nicholas Maxfield told the Associated Press in response to the former chairman’s interview.
Despite the fact that he has been denied bail and remains in solitary confinement, Ghosn managed a pragmatic outlook in his Nikkei interview, the paper quoting him as saying, “In life there are ups and downs.”
(To see more about the resignation of former US CEO Jose Munoz, Click Here.)
There could be significantly more downs than ups in the near future if Ghosn continues to lose his bid for bail. According to Japanese reports, it could be six months or more before his trial and, if he loses there he could face 10 years or more in prison.