Fugitive ex-Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn's legal team opened fire on Nissan Motor Co Ltd, charging the automaker used a "flawed, biased" internal investigation to engineer Ghosn's arrest and stop him from more closely integrating Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault SA.
Ghosn's legal team issued the statement hours ahead of his expected appearance at a press briefing in Lebanon, where he has taken refuge after a daring escape from Japan on Dec. 31. The one-time auto industry star has said he will fight to restore his reputation, tarnished by accusations of criminal misconduct and by Nissan's struggles since his ouster.
Ghosn was awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct when he slipped away from his Tokyo residence, crossed Japan on a bullet train and was smuggled onto charter jets that delivered him from Osaka to Lebanon via Istanbul. Ghosn has said he fled a rigged Japanese justice system after authorities delayed his trial into 2021.
In their statement, Ghosn's lawyers said Nissan "never once" tried to interview the executive, or share with him evidence it had accumulated against him.
Turkish and Japanese authorities are investigating how Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan and through a Turkish airport on his way to Beirut. Interpol has issued a "red notice" seeking Ghosn's arrest.
Japanese authorities on Monday issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife, Carole, for alleged perjury in connection with her husband's financial dealings.
Carole told French newspaper Le Parisien that Japanese prosecutors were "hoping to put pressure on my husband" ahead of his press conference in Lebanon.
The statement from Ghosn's legal team seeks to focus attention on his charge that he was the victim of a coup by Nissan executives who opposed giving up more authority to Renault.
Ghosn was arrested by Japanese police on Nov. 19, 2018. 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 their statement, Ghosn's lawyers said Nissan's claim of "a robust, thorough internal investigation" is a "gross perversion of the truth." Instead, the lawyers wrote, the investigation "was initiated and carried out for the specific, predetermined purpose of taking down Carlos Ghosn to prevent him from further integrating Nissan and Renault, which threatened the independence of Nissan."
The former Nissan and Renault SA chairman has denied all charges against him and said he was the victim of "backstabbing" and "conspiracy" by Nissan executives who wanted to derail his efforts to merge the two automakers.
Ghosn's legal team also accused Nissan of allowing Hari Nada, an executive "whose own conduct was the subject of the investigation," to run the probe of Ghosn. The statement also charged that Latham & Watkins, the law firm that assisted Nissan's investigation, was not independent because it has long acted as outside counsel for the company.
Ghosn's lawyers said Nissan's investigation failed to uncover evidence that then-CEO Hiroto Saikawa had also benefited from improper compensation. Saikawa resigned last year after admitting he had been overpaid in violation of internal procedures.
Nissan was not immediately available for comment.
Japan's ambassador to Lebanon, Takeshi Okubo, met Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday, calling Ghosn's flight to Lebanon "deeply regrettable" and requesting cooperation from Beirut, according to a Japanese foreign ministry statement.