TOYKO — In a 20-minute jailhouse interview with Japanese news organization Nikkei, former factory executive Carlos Ghosn leveled explosive accusations at his former colleagues at Nissan Motor Co. Ghosn said he is innocent of the charges of financial crimes leveled against him, claiming the internal investigation that led to his arrest was part of a conspiracy to derail a prospective merger between Nissan and Renault.
“Plot and treason” on the part of Nissan executives led to the charges, Ghosn said, refuting rumors he ran the company like a dictator. “People translated strong leadership to dictator, to distort reality” for the “purpose of getting rid of me,” he told Nikkei.
Ghosn was head of a three-way factory alliance that also includes Mitsubishi, also of Japan, and Renault, of which the French government is the dominant shareholder.
Numerous reports have suggested Ghosn and his one-time protégé, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, were at odds over the proposed merger. Saikawa was said to be seeking more leverage for Nissan, which is the larger of the two companies but owns a 15% non-voting share in Renault. Renault owns 43% of Nissan.
Saikawa said this month he will step down once new auditing processes and controls are in place. Ghosn is accused of underreporting $80 million worth of deferred income, which sources close to Nissan’s investigation have said ballooned starting in 2009. That year, the Japanese government began requiring that executive pay be made public. Tax laws there require all income be reported in the year it’s earned. Ghosn is also accused of using company money to temporarily cover investment losses suffered during the late-2000s global economic downturn.
Ghosn told Nikkei each of the deferred-pay arrangements and money transfers at the heart of his case were either made with board approval or failed to advance past the draft stage. He also claimed Japanese regulators had already looked into the transfers and found no evidence of criminal activity.
Nissan refuted Ghosn’s claims in a statement issued in response to the interview.
“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly,” said a spokesman, referring to former Nissan executive Greg Kelly, who was indicted alongside his former boss.