Carlos Ghosn Says He’s The Victim Of ‘plot And Treason’ By Rivals At Nissan
TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn, the embattled auto executive indicted on charges of financial wrongdoing, says he was the victim of “plot and treason” by other Nissan leaders who wanted to thwart his plans to bring the automaker closer to its alliance partners, Renault of France and Mitsubishi Motors of Japan.
In an interview with Nikkei Asian Review, his first since he was arrested on Nov. 19, Mr. Ghosn blamed rivals at Nissan for misrepresenting facts to prosecutors and removing him as chairman of the company he helped rescue nearly two decades ago. He said that he had wanted to unite the three alliance partners in “autonomy under one holding company.”
“People translated strong leadership to dictator, to distort reality” for the “purpose of getting rid of me,” he said. Mr. Ghosn spoke to the Nikkei reporters for 20 minutes, and the article published on Wednesday was accompanied by an illustration. There were no photographs or audio files with the interview.
Prosecutors, who have been questioning Mr. Ghosn for more than two months, charged him with underreporting $80 million in income to the Japanese financial authorities and temporarily transferring personal losses to Nissan’s books. He has spent more than 70 days in jail and been refused bail twice.
Mr. Ghosn’s lead lawyer in Japan, Motonari Otsuru, did not return a call seeking comment.
In a court appearance this month, Mr. Ghosn said he was innocent of all charges. He also promised to surrender his passports and pay for a private apartment, security guards and an ankle bracelet in order to be released while under investigation. The court deemed the 64-year-old millionaire a flight risk.
In the interview with Nikkei, which has deep ties to the business establishment in Japan, Mr. Ghosn said he had a “plan to integrate” Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors and had shared those plans with Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s chief executive, in September.
Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for Nissan, declined to comment about the timeline Mr. Ghosn provided.
The interview was published a day before leaders of Renault and Nissan, which have been struggling to sort out their relationship in the wake of the arrest, are scheduled to meet. Mr. Saikawa and Jean-Dominique Senard, the recently appointed chairman of Renault, will hold a regular operational meeting in the Netherlands on Thursday.
The alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi is an industry juggernaut, accounting for more than 10 million car sales annually. The Nissan and Mitsubishi boards removed Mr. Ghosn as chairman shortly after his arrest. Mr. Ghosn resigned as chairman and chief executive of Renault last week.
Since then, Nissan itself has been indicted on charges of financial misconduct by Japanese prosecutors in relation to the Ghosn case; the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States has also questioned Nissan.
The Nikkei interview was notable for Mr. Ghosn’s methodical attempt to address some of the big questions — and speculation — about his financial dealings with the carmaker. There have been steady leaks to the news media about his housing, personal finances and salary, and about whether he correctly reported his earnings to the financial authorities for several years.
Mr. Ghosn told the Nikkei reporters that he denied accusations that he had improperly funneled $14.7 million in payments to a company run by a Saudi businessman, Khaled al-Juffali, whom he described in his court appearance this month as a “partner” of Nissan’s in the Persian Gulf region.
Prosecutors are investigating accusations that Nissan funds were used to pay Mr. Juffali to provide collateral for Mr. Ghosn’s personal paper losses of more than $16 million, incurred on foreign exchange investments after the 2008 financial crisis.
In an earlier statement to the court, Mr. Ghosn said that Nissan had paid Mr. Juffali for services to Nissan in the Middle East. In the Nikkei interview, he said that “the executive in charge of the region signed” off on the payment.
Mr. Maxfield, the Nissan spokesman, said the company had “already acknowledged severe problems with its governance as a company.” He added, “We can’t comment on the specifics of Nissan’s internal investigation.”
In the Nikkei interview, Mr. Ghosn denied accusations that he had improperly bought luxury homes through a Nissan affiliate, and said Nissan had approved the purchases.
“Hari Nada has done all this,” he said, referring to a senior vice president of Nissan. Mr. Nada did not answer a call seeking comment.
Mr. Ghosn described as a “distortion of reality” reports that he had improperly received a payment of 7.8 million euros, about $8.9 million, from a Dutch-based joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi. He said the venture had been set up for “synergy and not for payment.”
Mr. Maxfield of Nissan agreed with the stated purpose of the venture.
“That is the point of the company,” he said. “That is why Nissan and Mitsubishi, in their joint investigation into conduct at that company, found misconduct by Mr. Ghosn in paying himself from that, and will be seeking to recover the full amount paid to him.”
Mr. Ghosn’s interview corresponds with statements from members of his family who have said they believe Mr. Saikawa orchestrated a coup against him.
In an interview with the French business daily Les Échos this month, Mr. Saikawa dismissed reports that Nissan had organized a plot to oust Mr. Ghosn as “absurd,” and contrary to the “serious” evidence that he said the company had gathered.
Mr. Saikawa told Les Échos that Nissan’s internal investigation into possible financial misconduct by Mr. Ghosn and his close associate, Greg Kelly, a board member, “suggests that we are dealing with deliberate manipulation and concealment.”
A lawyer for Mr. Kelly, a former human resources executive and close confidant of Mr. Ghosn, has said Mr. Nada lured the executive to Tokyo in November so that prosecutors could arrest him with his boss. Mr. Kelly is American and had flown from his home in Nashville in a company jet arranged by Mr. Nada, his family said.
Mr. Kelly has been charged with conspiring to underreport Mr. Ghosn’s income but was released on bail in December to have surgery in Tokyo.
Corporate governance experts have questioned how Mr. Ghosn could have acted on his own and without knowledge of other board directors. The Nikkei interview does not fully address that.
“He refers to approvals by various parties, but not one of them is on the board of directors,” said Nicholas Benes of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan, a nonprofit group that focuses on corporate governance.
“This is strange, and begs to be explained,” Mr. Benes said. “I would like to know what each other director knew, and when did they know it.”