FORMER Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn was justified in fleeing Japan while under house arrest for alleged accounting fraud, according to a British businessman who helped uncover a financial scandal at Olympus, a Japanese technology firm.
Speaking to The Times, Michael Woodford, who was fired from Olympus in 2011 after exposing a £1bn accounting fraud, said he could understand why Ghosn had evaded the Japanese legal system ahead of his trial over alleged financial misconduct at the car maker.
Woodford told the newspaper: “There is a grave doubt about whether he would have had a fair trial and I’m very sympathetic to that.”
He added: “Mr Ghosn had the whereabouts and the support to get out of the system and I understand his motivation because of his concern about not getting a fair trial. If I were 65 and had the resources and faced spending years in a Japanese prison, well he doesn’t have much to lose.”
Sources close to Ghosn told Reuters that the ousted boss decided to run after learning that his trial had been delayed until April 2021, and because he had not been allowed to speak to his wife while under house arrest.
The businessman is reported to have been smuggled out of his home in Japan in a large instrument case, and made his way to Beirut via two privately chartered jets, changing planes at Istanbul.
Today, Turkish police detained seven airport staff and pilots in Istanbul as it launched an investigation into the matter.
Ghosn, who was removed from his role as chairman of Nissan in November 2018 following an internal investigation, is accused of financial misconduct including the concealment of roughly 2.271bn yen (£15.8m) worth of share appreciation rights and improperly and deliberately increasing his retirement allowance by 2.4bn yen (£16.7m).
“I have not fled justice, I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
He is also accused of “personal use of the company’s assets”, including improper use of expenses toward family vacations and “gifts of a personal nature”. He is also alleged to have awarded more than $750,000 (£568,000) to his sister on the basis of a fictitious consulting contract for which Nissan says there is no evidence of any services having been rendered.
Ghosn has repeatedly denied the misconduct claims and has professed his innocence. He claims the accusations were trumped-up as part of an attempt to remove him from his position as chairman of Nissan.
The businessman has also been a critic of the judicial system in Japan. In a statement issued after he escaped to Lebanon, Ghosn called it “rigged” and said: “I have not fled justice, I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
Woodford also criticised Japan’s judicial system over the way it presumes guilt when convicting suspects, saying: “Japan detains people for hundreds of days, restricts access to people’s family and lawyers as part of their way of pressuring an admission of guilt before trial.”
Carole Ghosn, who married Mr Ghosn in 2016, claimed that when her husband was arrested for a fourth time, a woman from the prosecutors’ office followed her into the bathroom, and when she had finished her shower the woman handed her a towel.
They also handed Mrs. Ghosn papers and told her to sign them, she said. The papers were in Japanese, a language she can’t read.
The Ghosn’s wedding has also been under the spotlight after Renault claimed Mr Ghosn pulled strings at Renault to avoid a €50,000 (£42,000) bill for his Marie Antoinette-themed wedding reception at the palace of Versaille.
Prosecutors today raided Ghosn’s former house in Tokyo as authorities looked for clues to explain the former Nissan chairman’s escape. The businessman holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, but all passports had been seized by the Japanese authorities.
The Lebanese intelligence agency has claimed Ghosn entered the country legally, and has said “there are no measures that require taking measures against him or exposing him to legal prosecution”.
In a fast-developing story, The Financial Times this morning reported that Lebanon pressed Japan for Ghosn’s release and return on December 20, a week before he escaped from Tokyo, during a visit to Beirut by Keisuke Suzuki, Japan’s state minister for foreign affairs. Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun is claimed to have raised the issue at the end of a meeting.