Carlos Ghosn trashes Japanese justice system, Nissan leadership

The disgraced executive claims he endured more than a year of "inhumane treatment ... in a system designed to break me."

After breaking bail and fleeing to Lebanon, former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has expanded his criticism of both the Japanese justice system and his former employer.

In a press conference, the disgraced executive argued that he is "not above the law" and "did not escape justice," instead fleeing "injustice and persecution" when he snuck out of Japan aboard private jets and eventually landed in Lebanon, which does not have a formal extradition agreement with Japan.

"Having endured more than 400 days of inhumane treatment in a system designed to break me and unwilling to provide me even minimal justice, I was left with no other choice but to protect myself and my family," he said.

The alleged mistreatment included solitary confinement and repeated interrogations that lasted up to eight hours per day without lawyers present, pressuring him to confess or remain indefinitely detained.

The Ghosn scandal has attracted global attention to Japan's controversial justice system, which appears to lag behind the safeguards put in place by other modern democratic countries. Critics have pointed to the country's 99-percent conviction rate as evidence of the power that prosecutors often wield when coercing confessions from the accused.

To be clear, the charges that Ghosn faces in Japan are consistent with US Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement action against the executive and Nissan for allegedly failing to properly disclose $140 million in compensation. Citing unofficial reports that Nissan may have spent $200 million on its internal investigation, Ghosn claims his former employer colluded with Japanese prosecutors to oust him from his executive position.

It is no secret that Nissan's Japanese leadership has been displeased with Renault's disproportionate control over its affairs in the years since the smaller automaker helped pull the company away from the brink of bankruptcy. Renault's voting stake presumably blocked Nissan from removing Ghosn via traditional methods. The internal investigation that uncovered alleged financial impropriety kicked off as Ghosn was pursuing a formal merger between Renault and Nissan, which would have locked in French control.

Japan has sought an Interpol warrant for Ghosn, though it is unclear if the government will follow through with diplomatic pressure on Lebanon for an extradition. The debacle has been an embarrassment for both Japan and Nissan as the automaker struggles to reverse sales declines in the global automotive arena.

Some critics have argued that Nissan was likely complicit in the financial misdeeds, which apparently allowed Ghosn to receive compensation on par with American automotive executives without causing uproar if compared against the traditionally modest salaries of his Japanese peers. If true, the scandal may serve as another example of a cross-border merger that makes perfect sense on paper but may be easily derailed by corporate politics and cultural differences.

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