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Fugitive ex-Nissan boss Ghosn says treated ‘brutally’ by Japan

Fugitive ex-Nissan boss Ghosn says he had to flee to clear his name

BEIRUT Carlos Ghosn, speaking publicly for the first since his dramatic escape from Japanese justice, told reporters in Beirut he had been treated "brutally" by Tokyo prosecutors he accused of helping Nissan to oust him as chairman.

Wearing a blue suit and red tie and speaking defiantly, the former Nissan chief told a packed news conference yesterday he was not confident he would face a fair trial had he remained in Japan.

The one-time titan of the auto industry fled Japan last month when he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies. Ghosn said he fled to Lebanon to clear his name.

"You are going to die in Japan or you are going to have to get out," Ghosn said, describing his feelings. "I felt like the hostage of a country I served for 17 years," he told reporters crowded into Lebanon's seaside Beirut press syndicate.

Others waited outside in heavy rain, including some Japanese media who had been excluded from the briefing.

"The charges against me are baseless," Ghosn added, repeating his allegation that Nissan and Japanese authorities colluded to oust him following a downturn in Nissan's fortunes and in revenge for French government interference in the carmaker's alliance with Renault.

"Why have they extended the investigation timeline, why have they re-arrested me? Why were they so intent on preventing me from talking and setting out my facts?" Ghosn said of the Japanese authorities.

"Why have they spent 14 months trying to break my spirit, barring any contact with my wife?" Tokyo prosecutors on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife, Carole, for alleged perjury.

Japan's Ministry of Justice has said it will try to find a way to bring Ghosn back from Lebanon, even though it has no extradition treaty with Japan.

Turkish and Japanese authorities are investigating how Ghosn was smuggled out to Beirut. Interpol has issued a "red notice"seeking his arrest.

Ghosn's news conference marks the latest twist in a 14-month saga that has shaken the global car industry, jeopardised the Renault-Nissan alliance of which Ghosn was the architect and increased scrutiny of Japan's judicial system.

Nissan said an internal investigation found that Ghosn had engaged in personal use of company money and had under-reported his income in violation of Japanese law.

In a related development, a Lebanese public prosecutor general has summoned Ghosn for questioning today over the Interpol red notice issued by Japan which accuses him of crimes committed in Japan and calls for his arrest.

The Lebanese state news agency said the prosecutor would also hear Ghosn's statement over a formal legal complaint over meetings with leaders in Israel, which he visited as chief executive of the Renault-Nissan alliance in 2008.

- REUTERS

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