Hong Kong (CNN Business)Ex-Nissan chief and Carlos Ghosn protege Hiroto Saikawa is slamming his former mentor’s brazen escape from Japan, calling it a betrayal.
Ghosn fled because he was afraid he would be found guilty at trial, Saikawa told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. “I feel like I have been betrayed again,” he said.
Ghosn spoke with international media in Lebanon for more than two hours on Wednesday, his first public press conference since fleeing Japan last week. He slammed Japan’s criminal justice system, which he said “violates the most basic principles of humanity.” He also named Saikawa as one of the Nissan executives who he claims plotted with Japanese prosecutors to oust Ghosn from the automotive empire he had built between Nissan (NSANF), Renault (RNLSY) and Mitsubishi Motors.
Nissan executives were threatened by Renault’s growing clout in the partnership, said Ghosn.
“Unfortunately there was no trust, and some of our Japanese friends thought that the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault on Nissan [was] to get rid of me,” Ghosn said.
Saikawa succeeded Ghosn as CEO of Nissan in April 2017. But his tenure as chief, especially after Ghosn was arrested in November 2018, was marked by a string of terrible earnings. Saikawa said last May that Nissan had hit “rock bottom,” after reporting profits fell by nearly half. In July, at the last earnings press conference Saikawa presided over, Nissan reported a 99% plunge in operating profit.
A couple of months later, Saikawa resigned as chief of Nissan after admitting that he and other top Nissan executives were overpaid as part of a stock-related payment plan. He denied any wrongdoing, and said he would return excess funds. He is still a member of Nissan’s board of directors.
Masakazu Toyoda, an independent director on Nissan’s board, was also targeted during Ghosn’s tongue-lashing.
“I don’t have time to deal with a one man show by someone who violated the law and escaped justice,” Toyoda told reporters in Japan on Thursday.
Nissan and Renault declined to comment. Earlier, Nissan said it would still pursue “appropriate legal action” against Ghosn.
Japanese officials also responded to Ghosn’s public railing. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Thursday that Ghosn’s claims are “one-sided and totally lack persuasion.” Justice Minister Masoko Mori earlier defended the country’s justice system as one that is sufficient to “clarify the truth in cases while guaranteeing basic individual human rights.”
Suga added that the government will “take maximum measures” to ensure “due procedure of Japan’s criminal justice will be followed.”
Ghosn emerged in Lebanon last week after fleeing strict bail conditions in Tokyo that required him to stay in the country. In Japan, he faces charges of financial misconduct, including allegations that he understated his income for years and funneled millions of dollars of Nissan’s money into a dealership that he controlled.
He has repeatedly denied the charges against him, and said on Wednesday that he fled Japan because the country’s criminal justice system — which boasts a conviction rate above 99% once suspects are charged — is “rigged.”
Ghosn said he is willing to face trial in Lebanon, Brazil or France — the three countries where he holds citizenship.
— CNN’s Junko Ogura and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.