Ghosn says arrest was result of ‘plot and treason’: Nikkei

Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Carlos Ghosn looks on during a visit of French President at the Renault factory, in Maubeuge, northern France. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 January 2019
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Ghosn says arrest was result of ‘plot and treason’: Nikkei

  • Ghosn had “no doubt” that the charges against him were motivated by Nissan executives opposed to greater integration of the firm with its French alliance partner Renault
  • Ghosn faces three separate charges, all of which he denies

TOKYO: Detained auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn believes his arrest and the charges against him are the result of a “plot and treason” at his former employer Nissan, he told the Nikkei newspaper Wednesday.
The Japanese business daily quoted Ghosn as saying he had “no doubt” that the charges against him were motivated by Nissan executives opposed to greater integration of the firm with its French alliance partner Renault.
It was the first press interview Ghosn has given since his stunning arrest on November 19, conducted in the Tokyo detention center where he has languished ever since.
A Nissan spokesman hit back immediately, saying that current CEO Hiroto Saikawa has “already categorically refuted the notion of a ‘coup d’etat’.”
“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and (chief of staff Greg) Kelly,” the spokesman added.
He said a Nissan probe had uncovered “substantial and convincing evidence of misconduct” and that the firm’s focus is “firmly on addressing the weaknesses in governance” that allowed this misconduct to happen.
The 64-year-old Ghosn has been denied bail several times, with the court considering him a flight risk and concerned he could attempt to destroy evidence.
But he again stressed that he “won’t flee. I will defend (myself),” according to the Nikkei.
“All the evidence is with Nissan and Nissan forbids all employees to talk to me,” he added.
Even his own lawyer has said it is unlikely he will be released before a trial, which could take up to six months to organize given the complexity of the case.
Ghosn faces three separate charges, all of which he denies. He stands accused of under-reporting his income between 2010 and 2015 to the tune of five billion yen ($46 billion) and continuing to do so for a further three years.
He also stands accused of a complex scheme to try to pass off personal foreign exchange losses to Nissan and using company funds to reimburse a Saudi contact who stumped up collateral for him.
He said the payment to this businessman, Khaled Juffali, had been signed by “four officers.”
The executive, once feted for his turnaround of the struggling Nissan, has been removed as chairman of the Japanese firm as well as of Mitsubishi Motors. He has also resigned as chairman and chief executive of French company Renault.
He told the Nikkei there was a plan to “integrate” the three companies but insisted it was intended to ensure there would be “autonomy under one holding company.”
After Ghosn’s arrest, Saikawa referred to the “dark side” of his former mentor’s tenure and accused him of having accrued too much power.
But Ghosn rejected the characterization of his tenure as a “dictatorship.”
“People translated strong leadership to dictator, to distort reality,” he told the Nikkei. They did so, he added, for the “purpose of getting rid of me.”
Another accusation against him revolves around some $9 million allegedly paid to him from a joint venture based in The Netherlands but Ghosn rejected this, saying the claims of improper payments were “a distortion of reality.”
He has also come under fire for luxury houses in Rio de Janeiro and Beirut — which Nissan alleges were paid for improperly via a subsidiary.
He justified these residences on the grounds that he “needed a safe place where (he) can work and receive people in both Brazil and Lebanon.”
He stressed that the purchases were approved by the legal department.
Asked about his conditions in the detention center, Ghosn replied that the situation was “up and down” but said his health was “fine.”
Family members have said his detention conditions are overly difficult and even French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized them as “harsh.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.