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Ghosn goes on the offensive in first appearance since escape

Proclaiming his innocence, he accuses Japan's prosecutors, govt officials and Nissan execs of conspiring to topple him

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Now that he has slipped from Japan's grasp, Ghosn is taking his case to the court of public opinion - an arena where he gained a wealth of experience during two decades as one of the world's most prominent and media-savvy business leaders.

Beirut

CARLOS Ghosn went on the attack against Japan's criminal justice system less than two weeks after becoming the world's most famous fugitive with a daring escape to Lebanon.

"I was brutally taken from my world as I knew it," the former head of Nissan Motor Co and Renault SA said in Beirut on Wednesday, addressing a press conference for the first time since his arrest for financial crimes over a year ago.

"I was ripped from my family, my friends, from my communities, and from Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi."

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Ghosn's flight from Japan, an escape worthy of a Hollywood spy thriller, marked the latest twist in a saga that began with his stunning arrest at Tokyo's Haneda airport in November 2018.

Now free to speak his mind, the 65-year-old is seeking to salvage his legacy, blighted by allegations of understating his income and raiding corporate resources for personal gain at Nissan. He is also under investigation in France.

"I felt I was a hostage of a country that I had served for 17 years," Ghosn said, in an emotional reaction towards his treatment in Japan after helping rescue Nissan from near-collapse two decades ago.

After more than a year in Japan's criminal justice system, including months locked in a cell, Ghosn has scores to settle. Proclaiming his innocence, he accused Japanese prosecutors, government officials and Nissan executives of conspiring to topple him to prevent a further integration of the Japanese carmaker with Renault.

Ghosn named former Nissan chief executive officer Hiroto Saikawa, Hitoshi Kawaguchi and Masakazu Toyoda among those involved in the plot against him. Saikawa, Ghosn's successor-turned-accuser, lost his own job less than a year later over his own overcompensation scandal.

Ghosn was facing trials that could have landed him in prison for more than a decade when, last week, he bolted to Lebanon in a private jet from Osaka's Kansai International Airport to escape what he described as a "rigged Japanese justice system". Lebanon does not have an extradition agreement with Japan.

Now that he has slipped from Japan's grasp, Ghosn is taking his case to the court of public opinion - an arena where he gained a wealth of experience during two decades as one of the world's most prominent and media-savvy business leaders.

"I am here to expose a system of justice that violates the most basic principles of humanity," Ghosn said at the press conference. "These allegations are untrue and I should never have been arrested." He laid the blame for his treatment not only on the prosecutors, but also on government officials, Nissan and its law firm. Because they leaked false information and withheld information that might have helped him, Ghosn said he was presumed guilty without the ability to clear his name.

"My unimaginable ordeal over the past 14 months was the result of an orchestrated campaign spearheaded by a handful of unscrupulous, vindictive individuals at Nissan and at the Latham & Watkins law firm, with the support of the Tokyo prosecutor's office," Ghosn said.

His arrest cast an unflattering light on Japan's legal system, where prosecutors can grill suspects repeatedly without their lawyers present and enjoy an almost 100 per cent conviction rate. BLOOMBERG