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Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn says downfall felt like being 'hit by a bus'

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Fugitive ex-auto magnate Carlos Ghosn speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Fugitive ex-auto magnate Carlos Ghosn speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, May 25, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Just years ago, Carlos Ghosn was at the top of his game as a powerful leader in the auto industry, heading an alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi.

In 2018, it all fell apart, with the auto boss ousted after being arrested in Japan, before fleeing to Lebanon the following year.

The auto magnate had been arrested on accusations of financial misconduct and now faces legal challenges in France after his Japan arrest triggered scrutiny of his spending in Europe.

Now, in wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Ghosn has opened up about his fall from grace, comparing his downfall to being "hit by a bus".

"It's like you have, you know, I don't know, a heart attack somewhere or you've been hit by a bus," the ex-Nissan boss told AP in an interview held in Beirut.

"All of a sudden, you are in a completely different reality and you have to adapt to this reality", he said.

A 'completely different reality'

For Ghosn, that new reality has meant adapting to a far slower pace of life in Lebanon as he prepares to face trial in France following heavy scrutiny of his activity there after the charges laid in Japan.

The former auto boss has denied accusations of having underreported his pay, as well as of misusing corporate money. Instead, he has claimed to be the victim of a plot against him.

"Obviously, I've been the object of a character assassination campaign, frankly massively led obviously by Nissan, with the prosecutor and the complicity of the Japanese government," he said.

Still, Ghosn said he has voluntarily agreed to being questioned in Beirut by magistrates probing financial misconduct claims in France.

The inquiry is expected to look into spending on parties the former Nissan boss threw at Versailles, as well as on other endeavours, including the use of private planes and providing subsidies for a car dealership in Oman.

'More confidence' in French legal system

Ghosn told AP that he believed he would have more luck within the French legal system than he has had in Japan.

"In Japan, you had a Japanese person interrogating me, writing in Japanese and wanting me to sign things in Japanese that I don't understand," he said.

"Now I will be speaking in French, and I'll have my lawyers present. Of course, I have much more confidence in the French legal system than in the Japanese system," he asserted.

Shock over Dutch court ruling

Ghosn also said he was "shocked" by a court ruling in the Netherlands last week that not only tossed out a wrongful dismissal claim he had filed against a Dutch-based alliance between Nissan and Mitsubishi, but also ordered him to repay the nearly €5 million he had received as his salary in 2018.

After the decision was revealed, he vowed to appeal.

Despite the allegations mounting against him, Ghosn has insisted that he is innocent and that an organised plot is being carried out against him, as well as several associates who are in jail or on trial in Japan and Turkey in cases related to the allegations against him.

'Collateral damage'

Asserting that one of his former colleagues, lawyer Greg Kelly, who was arrested at the same time as him in Tokyo, had become "collateral damage" in a plot against him, he said that the American is "obviously innocent".

“Greg is probably the person, from all the teams I had, one of the most professional, highest integrity person I know. That’s one of the reasons I trusted him,” Ghosn said.

Kelly has been charged with falsifying securities reports to help boost Ghosn's compensation after he agreed to a pay cut at Nissan in 2010 and if he is convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Kelly has maintained his innocence, asserting that payments to Ghosn were completely legal.

In his interview with AP, the former Nissan boss agreed that there was "nothing illegal" about his pay.

“Nothing was decided. It was only brainstorming," he said. "And frankly to the end, nothing was decided".

A 'bold' escape

While Ghosn remained tight-lipped about how exactly he managed to flee Japan and refused to confirm whether he had made his getaway in a musical instrumental box, he described his escape as a "bold" getaway.

He revealed that his escape had deliberately been planned for December, as he would be less recognisable under the cover of a hat and coat.

"It was very bold, but because it was bold, I thought it may be successful," he said.