Photo/IllutrationCarlos Ghosn, the former Nissan Motor chairman, in an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Beirut on Jan. 10 (Tetsuro Takehana)

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Carlos Ghosn expanded on his criticism of Japan’s justice system, saying delays in his trial date, illegal leaks to the media and even a court’s use of a “bad translator” led him to flee the country.

In an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun conducted on Jan. 10, two days after Ghosn held a news conference attended by international media in Beirut, the former chairman of Nissan Motor Co. said nobody cared about the injustices committed by Tokyo prosecutors to turn Japanese public opinion against him.

He said he would have preferred to clear his name of financial misconduct charges at a court in Japan, a country that he loves, but he came to believe that he would never receive a fair trial.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: Based on the Jan. 8 news conference, we understand that, in your opinion, the Japanese legal system does not represent justice. We have already published what you said then, so you don’t have to repeat it.

Ghosn: No problem.

Q: We also know (based on your pool interview with Japanese media organizations on Jan. 10) that you love Japan.

Ghosn: (Smiling) This is true.

Q: We want you to clarify and elaborate on issues the Japanese people want to know more about. At the news conference, you said you wanted to clear your name. Many in Japan feel that your escape has damaged your credibility. How can you convince (the Japanese people) that your decision was inevitable?

Ghosn: Before I left Japan, there was a survey made by a public relations company showing that 80 percent of the people in Japan thought I was guilty. This was the situation before I left.

For 14 months since my arrest, the press in Japan has been bombarding (the public) with information coming from Nissan and information coming from the prosecutor. I had no voice when I was in prison, and then, when I got out from prison, I couldn't speak, because the day I said I wanted to speak (at a news conference in Tokyo), I came back to prison. (The prosecutors’) message was very clear.

For 14 months, the Japanese public reads in the newspaper saying, “(Ghosn) is greedy, he’s a dictator, he’s cold, he doesn’t like Japan.”

For 17 years, I was a good manager, I was reviving Nissan. I loved Japan. I was promoting Japan all over the world.

People say, “For 17 years, he was a good guy.” All of a sudden you are telling us that this guy was not good? People are surprised. They don’t understand. The press always said, “He’s guilty, he’s guilty.” Eighty percent of the people so say, “We don’t understand, but maybe there is something.”

People asked, “Why did he leave Japan?” Now I can explain it.

I dedicated every part of my life to Japan. I loved Nissan. I revived Nissan. Today Nissan is a big company. It’s also due not only to me but all the people who have been with me. I did it. I built the alliance. I defended Nissan when Renault people wanted to dominate Nissan. I have always defended the autonomy of Nissan.

When the public says, “Oh, if he runs away, it’s because he's guilty.” No! After 14 months, I wanted to defend myself.

Q: Did you consider that your departure from Japan could risk your reputation?

Ghosn: Sure, but my reputation was already down. When 80 percent of the people think you are guilty, your reputation is already gone. When I was in Japan recently, I was going out to the restaurants, the people are very nice to me. People talked to me, they shake my hand and say, “Ganbatte kudasai” (please do your best).

Q: Didn’t you think that if you expressed this kind of logic in a Japanese trial, then people would support you?

Ghosn: No, the prosecutors wanted me to confess something I didn’t do. That’s what they want. And this is taped.

Q: If you waited until the trial started, you would have had the opportunity to say everything there.

Ghosn: Interesting. This is another reason. Fourteen months after, I still don’t have a decision on the beginning of the trial. Do you think it’s normal? Why is it taking so much time to fix the date?

The first trial (of the various charges against him) itself will take one year. (Then the high court) that’s another six months. Then you have the Supreme Court, which is another three or six months. Then you start the second trial.

So, you’re talking about four or five years in order to clear my name. During all these years I am outside my community. This was too much.

Q: When did you realize that there is no chance to have a fair trial?

Ghosn: This was a very short period of time before I decided to leave. I thought, “OK, I have no hope.” And I went out from the country illegally.

I complained to the judge about the breaking of the law by the prosecutor. By Japanese law, the prosecutor cannot leak (information related to the investigation). We asked the prosecutor, “Do you leak?” They said, “No, we don’t leak.” You know very well that they leak. It’s against the law.

Why it’s not OK with me if I do something by leaving Japan, but the prosecutor leaking, against the law, it’s OK?

The second reason, the prosecutor is supposed to be neutral. But the prosecutor is not neutral. They collaborated with Nissan. Before and after my arrest, they collaborated with Nissan. We have so many things where they are breaking the law and nobody cares.

Q: Do you think that the escape from Japan can be somewhat justified because prosecutors were breaking more laws?

Ghosn: No, it’s not justified. They broke the law and nobody cared. What kind of justice system is it when the prosecutor breaks the law, nobody cares? How do you want me to believe in such a system?

Put yourself in my place. You’re seeing all these violations of the law. My lawyers are talking about it, nothing happens. Do you think that justice system in front of me would be fair?

Q: The plan to escape took quite a long time to prepare. When did you first start thinking about getting out from Japan?

Ghosn: This is an accumulation of facts. When I asked (the court) to remove the (contact) ban for my wife and they said: “No, the ban is not going to be removed. Maybe it is going to take much more time.” This is a lot of things coming one on top of the other. That makes you say, “I’m never going to get a fair trial.”

Q: Do you mean that in the beginning you were trying to win the trial?

Ghosn: Oh, yeah! This will be my best choice. If somebody can ensure me that I will get a fair trial in Japan, I would prefer to get a trial in Japan because this is where I need to clear my name. But I have no guarantee I will get a fair trial in Japan.

Q: You said that you are willing to prove your innocence in a country that will provide you with a fair trial, like Lebanon or France or Brazil or America. But how can a country, other than Japan, try you for an accusation under Japanese law? Can they legally do that kind of trial?

Ghosn: I don’t know if it can be done. I’m not an expert. I’m willing to submit myself to any justice where the rights of the defense are protected.

My lawyers in Japan, like (Junichiro) Hironaka, are very good lawyers. These are people who love their country but at the same time fight for justice in Japan. My lawyers, when I was asking them “Can I get a fair trial in Japan?” silence. They said, “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure you get a fair trial. We think he will be acquitted.”

Q: Even you couldn’t believe their word?

Ghosn: With a 99.4-percent conviction rate, with all the problems created by my case, I don’t think (my lawyers) believed themselves that they could win.

Q: There are some problems in the Japanese legal system. But still, many believe that you should have proclaimed your innocence through the Japanese trial because it would be more convincing, rather than speaking from Lebanon after breaching the law. Don’t you think so?

Ghosn: I understand, but it would have meant a long period cut from my family, cut from my friends, cut from my community. This was too much. I am presumed innocent before I’m being tried. Why have I been treated as a guilty person?

You know what your minister of justice said, “Mr. Ghosn has to prove his innocence.” This is not a small employee. This is the minister of justice, this is the head of the justice system.

Q: Later on she said she was mistaken.

Ghosn: OK. So now if I say, “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s a mistake I left Japan. Sorry about it.” So you’re going to forgive me? I mean, this is not a game; this is a life.

Q: Did you feel a conflict about escaping from Japan?

Ghosn: There is a conflict. I would have liked to have a fair trial, but not 10 years down the road. I’m 65 years old. I was hoping for a speedy trial. But nobody cared.

My lawyers were telling the judge always: “Mr. Ghosn cannot see his wife, he cannot talk to his son. Please, please, please.” Nothing happened.

Let me give you some small examples. The translator in the court. We could not understand the translator. Because it was a bad translator. You have a good translator and you have a bad translator. We complained to the judge. We asked for a change, but the judge said, “No.”

We asked for simultaneous translation because you can shorten the time and be more effective. The court said: “No. We have never done this in Japan.”

All companies do simultaneous translation, but in the court, “Simultaneous translation? Ah, ‘shikata ganai’ (it cannot be helped).” Come on, Japan is a modern country with modern technology, with a lot of vision. Why what is implemented everywhere in the world is not implemented (in Japan)?

(Continued in Part 2 of exclusive interview with Ghosn.)