Frankly Speaking: Fugitive ex-Nissan chief Ghosn says ready to stand trial in ‘neutral’ jurisdiction

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Updated 19 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: Fugitive ex-Nissan chief Ghosn says ready to stand trial in ‘neutral’ jurisdiction

  • Former boss of Renault-Nissan-Mistubishi Alliance talked about the fight to clear his name, Lebanon’s crisis and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030
  • As the latest guest on the “Frankly Speaking” series of video interviews, Ghosn criticized Japan’s “hostage justice” system

DUBAI: Carlos Ghosn, the fugitive motor-industry mogul, wants to stand trial in a country he regards as more neutral than Japan, he told Arab News.

Ghosn, who fled Tokyo 18 months ago, said: “I think the end of it has to be in a trial, but a trial that takes place in a country which has no stake in what is being tried. The only thing I’m asking is for a jurisdiction to be fair and neutral and not to be politically motivated. That’s all.”

In the course of a wide–ranging interview, the former boss of Japan’s Nissan and France’s Renault talked of how he was “abandoned” by the French government after it “surrendered” to Japan; his advice on how Lebanon — where he is currently seeking refuge from international law enforcement — can get out of its dire economic and political crisis; and his views on the Vision 2030 reform strategy in Saudi Arabia.

In conversation on the “Frankly Speaking” series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people, he also gave his view on the intense rivalry between Nissan and Toyota in the Middle East.

Ghosn’s most savage criticism was of the Japanese legal system, after he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of financial irregularity at the Nissan Motor Co., where he was chairman.

Carlos Ghosn arrives for a pre-trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on June 24, 2019. (Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP file)

“Prosecutors prevailed 99.4 per cent of the time, which is unheard of and unseen, quite frankly. Even though I’d been living in Japan for 18 years, I never suspected this kind of score,” he said.

“But having gone through the system and seeing the kind of intimidation — confession seeking, pressures, violation of human rights etc. — I am even surprised that they get only 99.4 per cent of confessions. I wonder how the other 0.6 per cent were able to resist when you look at the arsenal of arguments and things that they put against you.”

Japan’s justice system has been labeled “hostage justice” by the UN, he said, adding: “I’m ready to go to Japan the day they change their ‘hostage justice’ system.”

He said that he “felt bad” for people on trial in Japan, including his former lawyer, Greg Kelly. “I was lucky to be able to get out before the systems locked me down for God knows how many years, but I feel bad for Greg Kelly,” he said.

Japanese prosecutors charged Ghosn with a variety of financial crimes, including inflating his salary, but he said his remuneration had been agreed by the Nissan board of directors on several occasions. “I deduced from this that they were happy, particularly knowing that dividends were paid, the company was growing, the company was profitable,” he said.

French carmaker Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn arrives on Feb. 17, 2016 at the French National Assembly, before addressing the Economical and Financial commissions during a hearing. (AFP file)

Ghosn — a French citizen as well as holding Lebanese and Brazilian nationality — was also scathing about the actions of the government of President Emmanuel Macron, which appeared to want to appease Tokyo over the future of the Nissan–Renault alliance.

“Instead of somehow getting good support, I was just abandoned, after two or three weeks of obvious conflict between France and Japan,” he said.

“But then the French surrendered, and they said it very clearly — you know we want to preserve the good relationship between Japan and France, we want to preserve the good relationship between Nissan and Renault, and we trust that Japanese justice will solve this problem with Carlos Ghosn,” he said.

Ghosn has lived in Lebanon since December 2019 with his wife Carole, and is subject to a “red notice” from Interpol at the request of the Japanese government. Lebanon does not extradite citizens.

“Lebanon asked for Japan to transmit the accusation and the charges so they could look into them and eventually try me in Lebanon. But Japan has refused to do so,” he said.

Although there was “zero chance” of him becoming involved directly in Lebanese politics, including considering any offer to become the next president, Ghosn said that he was aware of “the misery brought on the country by the financial collapse, the economic recession with all its social consequences.”

A portrait of ousted Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is seen on a publicity billboard in his support at a street in Beirut on December 6, 2018. (Joseph Eid / AFP)

He would “support, help, guide, advise whoever is interested to limit the suffering that people around us are going through,” he said.

“Having turned around many companies, I know by practice that whatever solution you bring when you have to turn around a company, or a country, five percent is the strategy, and 95 percent is execution,” he said. “So somehow those who will save the country are those who are in power and put in power by the Lebanese people, because frankly, the methods and the strategy to get out are pretty simple, and they have been (tried) in many countries (and) many companies.”

He also offered his view on the Vision 2030 reform strategy in Saudi Arabia. “I think that makes a lot of sense — transforming a country from being overly reliant on a couple of resources, to have different sources of revenues, and different sources of income, and different sorts of activity for employment,” he said.

Ghosn cautioned that the challenge for Saudi policymakers lies in the implementation of that strategy. “The success of this depends on how disciplined it’s is going to be — the execution, how focused (it is) going to be, the people in charge of delivering on this, and how serious they’re going to be about gathering the maximum level of talents into transforming the reality of Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia is a very rich country. It benefits from a lot of resources, but I think the people in charge of the country know that it’s not going to last forever. So, in my opinion they’re doing the right thing and I hope that will be successful,” he said.

From his perspective as a global expert in the motor business, he said that the difference between the Nissan business and the dominant Toyota operation in the Kingdom lay in the strength of the distribution network Toyota has built there in partnership with the Abdul Latif Jameel group.

“They have probably one of the best distributors in the world located in Saudi Arabia, so it’s going to be very difficult to fight if they (Nissan) don’t have people even approaching this level now,” he said.

This courtroom sketch illustrated by Masato Yamashita depicts former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn attending his hearing at the Tokyo district court on January 8, 2019. (JIJI PRESS  via AFP/file)

He added that he thought the Nissan–Renault–Mitsubishi alliance, which he was developing in the global motor industry, was doomed to fall apart.

“Frankly everything I’m seeing today makes me see the alliance as a zombie — that means it looks like it’s living matter, but in fact, inside nothing is happening. So, I’m not very optimistic when it comes to the future of this alliance. I hope I’m wrong but I will bet you that within the next five years this whole thing is going to totally unravel,” he said.

Ghosn cooperated in the making by Saudi media company MBC of a full–length documentary, “The Last Flight,” describing his dramatic escape from Japan in a large musical-instrument box on board a private jet, and analyzing the events leading up to it, which was released last week.

“I think there was a clear motivation from MBC to do it. They were the first one to come to me and say we would like your cooperation to do something like this, and they were very straightforward and honest about it,” he said.

Ghosn is planning further publicity initiatives, on top of legal action against his former employers.

“I want to leave something in order to help re-establish my reputation, on top of what I’ll be doing from a legal point of view. But I have no intention to come back to the high-flying life I had before,” he said.


Twitter: @frankkanedubai

Iraqi family of English Channel shipwreck victim mourn her death

Updated 27 November 2021

Iraqi family of English Channel shipwreck victim mourn her death

  • Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan who had settled in Britain
  • At Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death

SORAN, Iraq: In a simple house in northeast Iraq, the parents of Maryam Nuri Hama Amin mourn the loss of their beloved daughter who drowned trying to reach her fiancee in Britain.
“She wanted a better life,” her father Nuri Hama Amin said, still reeling from shock, just days after his daughter vanished into the freezing waters of the Channel between France and England. “But she ended up in the sea.”
Maryam — “Baran” to her family, a name meaning “rain” in Kurdish — was one of at least 27 migrants who died Wednesday when their inflatable boat sank off the French port of Calais.
The shipwreck was the deadliest disaster since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the Channel to England.
“We have no information on the smugglers,” said her father, speaking from the family home in Soran, a town in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) away from where his daughter died.
“Their promises turned out to be lies.”
Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan, also from Iraqi Kurdistan, but who had settled in Britain.
Karzan was on the phone with her as she set out onto the dangerous waters from France — and was the one who called the family in Iraq to tell them she died, her cousin Kafan Omar said.
Shortly before she set left France, her father had spoken to her for hours on the phone.
“She was very happy, she was relaxed,” he said. “She was in a hotel in France, we spoke until eight in the morning.”
Since the shipwreck, the bodies of the passengers have been held in a morgue in France. Officially, nothing has been released about the identities and nationalities of the 17 men, seven women and three minors.
But at Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death.
On Saturday, dozens of men, many dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes, sat reciting a prayer.
Close by, under the shelter of a large tent, women in black robes sat in mourning. Maryam’s mother was too grief-stricken to speak.
In the house, Maryam’s room is tidy, as if she had just left it.
Above the bed, two photos show Maryam and her fiancee at their engagement. A picture shows the young woman in a traditional dress decorated with embroidery, with a tiara over an elaborate hairstyle.
A bouquet of white roses lies on her bed.
Her cousin, Kafan Omar, said she had left home nearly a month before.
“She got a work visa and went to Italy, and then to France,” he said. “We had tried many times to send her to Britain to join her fiancee, but without success.”
Maryam was just one of thousands of young hopefuls from the region who have left home in recent months.
Thousands of migrants — many Kurds from Iraq — have been stuck on the border with Belarus in a bid to cross into Poland and the European Union. Some have returned on repatriation flights, battered by their freezing ordeal.
Many of those Iraqis say they have spent their savings, sold valuables and even taken loans to escape economic hardship in Iraq and start a new life.
Kermaj Ezzat, a close relative of the family, said young people in Iraqi Kurdistan were mainly leaving because of the region’s “instability.” He denounced the policies blocking their travel.
“These countries have closed their borders to young people who dream of a better future,” he said.
Maryam’s father gave a message to others wanting to head west.
“I call on young people not to emigrate and to endure the difficulties here, rather than sacrifice their lives to reach Europe,” he pleaded.

Arab coalition strikes underground missile base in Houthi-occupied Sanaa

Smoke rises from the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen November 27, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 November 2021

Arab coalition strikes underground missile base in Houthi-occupied Sanaa

  • Residents cautioned as air raids target drone workshops, weapons depots in Dhahban district

AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemen struck on Saturday early morning military sites controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in the capital, Sanaa.

Residents reported hearing several large explosions that triggered subsequent blasts and balls of fire across Sanaa.

The coalition said in a statement that the airstrikes targeted secret underground tunnels in the presidential palace used for storing ballistic missiles and other military locations.

Drone workshops and weapons depots in Sanaa’s Dhahban district were also targeted, the coalition said, asking residents to avoid approaching those areas.

Residents described the airstrikes on early Saturday as the “longest and most intensive” in years.

On Friday, the coalition released satellite images of an airstrike on a ballistic missile while the Houthis were moving it from a secret depot to a launching area. During the last five days, the Arab coalition has intensified airstrikes on military camps and other areas in Houthi-held Sanaa with the aim of destroying ballistic missiles, explosives-rigged drones and other weapons.

Last week, the Arab coalition accused the Houthis of turning the airport in Sanaa into a military facility by testing an air defense system there.

In Marib province, the Arab coalition carried out many air raids in support of government troops on the ground during the past 24 hours, hitting Houthi military reinforcements.

This came as government troops on Friday and Saturday engaged in heavy clashes with Houthis in Juba and Thana, south of Yemen, with no information about gains for either side.

The Yemeni government announced that it had pushed back Houthi attacks in Juba after killing and wounding dozens of Houthis.

For the last couple of months, the Houthis have ratcheted up military pressure on government troops defending Marib in a bid to advance toward the city.

Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since February when the Houthis renewed an offensive to control the energy-rich Marib city.

The Houthi military pressure on Marib was alleviated during the last seven days when the Joint Forces on the country’s west coast launched an offensive, targeting the Houthis in strategic areas in the provinces of Taiz and Hodeidah.

The Joint Forces seized control of Hays district in Hodeidah and pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled territory, seizing parts of Maqbanah in Taiz and Al-Jarahi in Hodeidah.  

On Saturday, the Joint Forces’ Giants Brigades announced they had seized control of part of Saqoum valley and a number of hilly terrains north of Maqbanah in Taiz after heavy clashes with the Houthis.

The latest advances by the Joint Forces have prompted the Houthis into sending their leaders to densely populated provinces under their control to incite people to join the battlefields.

The Houthi official media reported that Abdul Rahman Al-Jamai, deputy speaker of the Houthi-controlled parliament and governor of Ibb, on Friday called for a general mobilization of forces to reinforce the battlefields with fighters, funds and weapons.

Concluding a visit to Moscow on Friday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg repeated concerns over the impact of the escalating fighting between government troops and the Houthis in Marib, Taiz and Hodeidah provinces on civilians and peace efforts. He urged warring factions to stop hostilities and work on achieving a comprehensive and inclusive peace deal to end the war.

“We are facing a potential military escalation that will only increase the suffering of civilians. Increased international efforts are essential to convince all sides of the need to settle disagreements at the negotiation table,” Grundberg said in a statement.

Iraninan riot police deployed after 67 arrested in Isfahan

Updated 27 November 2021

Iraninan riot police deployed after 67 arrested in Isfahan

  • The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan
  • Drought is a cause, but protestors also accuse authorities of diverting water from the city

TEHRAN: Riot police were deployed in force Saturday in the Iranian city of Isfahan, a day after dozens were arrested in violent protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river.
Security forces fired tear gas during the clashes with stone-throwers in the protest in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rood river that crosses the city, Fars and ISNA news agencies said.
"We have arrested 67 of the main actors and agitators behind the troubles," police General Hassan Karami told on Saturday. He said between 2,000 and 3,000 "rioters" took part in the protest.
On Saturday, the situation was "calm" and streets empty, with riot police deployed on the city's Khadjou bridge, a Isfahan city resident said.
The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan, some 340 kilometres (210 miles) south of Tehran, a tourist magnet due to its majestic mosques and heritage sites, including a historic bridge across the river.
But it was the first to turn violent.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers and city residents turned up for the gatherings last week, estimated Karami.
The riverbed has been the rallying spot for farmers and other people from across Isfahan province protesting the lack of water since November 9.
Drought is a cause, but they also accuse the authorities of diverting water from the city to supply the neighbouring province of Yazd, which is also desperately short on supplies.
"I used to walk along the riverbed with friends, but today the riot police are deployed in large numbers near the Khajou bridge and they are asking people to avoid the area," said a woman in her 50s.
During the clashes on Friday, some people set fire to objects in the city, Fars and ISNA reported.
"After the farmers left, the opportunists and counter-revolutionaries were left behind, which made it easy for the security apparatus, especially the police, to identify and arrest those who destroyed public and state property," Isfahan police chief Mohammad-Reza Mirheidari said on television.
But members of the security forces were hit by fire from hunting rifles, he said, without specifying how many.
One of them was stabbed, although his condition was not believed to be critical.
A Fars journalist said two bulldozers were used to destroy a pipe taking water from Isfahan province to Yazd.
"Among the injured demonstrators, two are in a serious condition," Nourodin Soltanian, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.
Recently, there have been almost daily protests in the region of Isfahan, which has been particularly hard-hit by drought.
On Saturday, the ultra-conservative daily Kayhan pointed the finger of blame for the violence at "mercenary thugs", whereas the pro-reform Etemad said the protests in Isfahan showed a "lack of trust in the government".
Last Sunday, more than 1,000 people marched towards the governor's office in the western province of Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari to demand a solution to water shortages, state media reported.
According to Fars, farmers and local authorities struck a deal on Thursday about water distribution.
President Ebrahim Raisi met with representatives from the provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Semnan earlier this month and vowed to resolve water issues.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the topic is the country's top problem, without making reference to the protests.

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

Updated 27 November 2021

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

  • After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces said they shot dead a convicted militant on Saturday as he tried to escape from a prison with two accomplices.
The three prisoners, all members of the Daesh group, were serving life sentences at the Taji penitentiary north of Baghdad, the security services said in a statement.
They were spotted as they tried to break out of jail by climbing over an external wall, the statement said.
Guards opened fire “when they refused to heed warnings,” it said, adding one prisoner was killed while the two others “surrendered.”
“The three terrorists had been sentenced to life in jail,” the statement said without identifying them.
The Daesh group swept across swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014 where they set up so-called caliphate.
Iraq officially declared victory over Daesh in 2017, and two years later they were defeated in Syria.
But sleeper cells continue to be active in both countries where they frequently carry out attacks.
After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants.
Only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be against capital punishment.

President faces another test as Algerians vote

Updated 27 November 2021

President faces another test as Algerians vote

  • Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.

Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.