Interview: Carlos Ghosn on the dark side of Japan, life in Lebanon and his upcoming documentary

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Updated 19 June 2021

Interview: Carlos Ghosn on the dark side of Japan, life in Lebanon and his upcoming documentary

Interview: Carlos Ghosn on the dark side of Japan, life in Lebanon and his upcoming documentary
  • The former Nissan chairman was arrested in Tokyo in 2018 over allegations of false accounting and financial misconduct
  • In Dec. 2019, Ghosn pulled off a complex and dramatic escape that could have come straight from a Hollywood movie

LONDON: Carlos Ghosn, the auto-executive-turned-fugitive who plotted a brazen escape from Osaka in December 2019 following his arrest by Japanese authorities on charges of financial misconduct, has denounced what he calls Japan’s darker side — its legal system.

Ever since the French-Lebanese-Brazilian former chairman of Japanese car giant Nissan was arrested at Tokyo International Airport on Nov. 19, 2018, before launching a daring escape a year later hidden inside a luggage box on a private jet, the world has watched Ghosn’s capers with rapt attention.




Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn looks on before addressing a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan. (Supplied)

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, the 67-year-old Ghosn, now on Interpol’s most-wanted list, again asserted his innocence and accused a powerful business cabal of being in league with Japanese prosecutors in discrediting him.

“When you go to Japan, you have the impression you are in a mature democracy where your rights are going to be respected, where you’re going to be dealt with with fairness. There is nothing more wrong than that,” Ghosn told Arab News.

“Prosecutors win in 99.4 percent of the cases, which means as long as they turn their eyes on you and for any reason they decide to pursue you on any matter, you have zero chance of getting out.”

Ghosn has denied accusations of underreporting his compensation and misusing company funds to support a lavish lifestyle. The former auto executive insists that he was the victim of a corporate coup linked to a decline in Nissan’s financial performance as the Japanese automaker resisted losing autonomy to its French partner Renault.




Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn (L) and his layer Junichiro Hironaka (R) arrive for a pre-trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on June 24, 2019. (File/AFP)

That is why Ghosn says he had to jump his $14 million bail and flee rather than face charges in what he claims to be an unfair trial.

“Whenever you have a coalition between executives in a company, the Tokyo prosecutor, and Hideki Makihara, the minister of industry in Japan, there is no more place for justice. It’s over. It’s a killer coalition where you have zero chance of prevailing.”

Ghosn likened his treatment to the 2011 Olympus scandal and others at Toshiba, Takata and Fukushima, where he claims the same hidden hands have wrangled their favored results.




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. (File/AFP)

Mainstream media has picked up on only a fraction of the murky world underpinning the whole debacle, says Ghosn, who intends to set the record straight in a new MBC documentary, “The Last Flight.”

“When you read the articles that are being published, and will continue to be published, they are focusing on one specific aspect, one specific individual, one specific event,” Ghosn said.

“I think this documentary, from what I’ve seen, is really giving somebody who is not aware or has little awareness about what was going on a sense about how it started, who the main actors are, and what forces are at play.”

 

 

Among those interviewed are officials in Japan’s justice ministry, a Japanese prosecutor, Ghosn’s Japanese lawyer, France’s former minister of finance, and Ghosn’s former boss.

Despite Ghosn and his wife Carole’s involvement in the feature’s production, he insists the film will offer a balanced portrayal of events.

“The interest into a documentary like this is to try to present the facts in a very objective way, giving the opportunity for the different parties to express themselves. So instead of the public listening to one voice which is biased about what happened, they have the opportunity to listen to the different voices and to the different positions.”




Carole, the wife of former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, leaves a press conference in which her husband addressed a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan. (File/AFP)

The trials of Ghosn’s former colleague Greg Kelly and the two Americans who helped him escape — father and son Michael and Peter Taylor — were continuing at the time of this interview.

On Monday, both Taylors confessed to aiding and abetting the auto executive’s escape from Japan to Lebanon via Turkey in December 2019 in exchange for $1.3 million. Ghosn believes the documentary will have no impact on the outcome of the Kelly and Taylor trials.

Nevertheless, he said he is the victim of a character assassination orchestrated by the Japanese government, the French media and his former employers in response to his role in the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance — an attack he was unable to challenge in the public domain.




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

“Between November 2018 and December 2019 when I flew out, I was not authorized to talk. I couldn’t talk to the press. Every time I tried to talk to the press, I paid a very high price for it,” Ghosn said.

“So for 14 months, we had a litany of information about a character assassination, the source of which was Tokyo, with the collusion of the Japanese government, the Tokyo prosecutor’s office and Nissan from one side, relayed unfortunately by French public officials, some Renault accomplices, and the media in France, around the angle that they didn’t support this guy because there was something fishy about what he has done in the companies.”

Ghosn has already tried to tell his side of the story in two books: the first, published in French and Arabic, and soon to be translated to English and Japanese, setting out to counter the allegations made against him, while the second, co-written by his wife, describes the “human side” of the story, “how we have been, from her side and my side, dealing with this ordeal during these 14 months.”




Carole, the wife of former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, attends a press conference in which her husband (L) addressed a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan. (File/AFP)

Following his escape from Japan, Ghosn headed to his native Lebanon, where his wife was waiting for him. He has been there ever since.

With his days as an executive in the automotive industry over, Ghosn has occupied himself with pro bono work with the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, where he has developed a business program. He is also involved with several local startups.

Dubbed “Mr. Fix It” for essentially saving Nissan from bankruptcy, Ghosn strongly denies he has designs on a career in politics to help rescue Lebanon from economic ruin.

“I’m dedicating my time to re-establishing my reputation, defending my rights, fighting the different legal battles that have been launched against me or that are launching against the company that treated me so badly,” he said.




Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn looks on before addressing a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan. (Supplied)

Lebanon faces an unprecedented crisis on multiple fronts. Its currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market and the country is struggling with shortages of gas and electricity.

Following 10 months of deadlock, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is still trying to form a cabinet amid seemingly endless squabbling with Michel Aoun, the country’s president, and his son-in-law, the US-sanctioned former foreign minister Gebran Bassil.

On top of all this, the country is reeling from the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast, which leveled a whole city district and left more than 200 dead and thousands more wounded. Ghosn nevertheless believes Lebanon can find workable solutions if it implements proper reforms.

“I think there is a perception that this problem is so complicated that there is no obvious solution. This is wrong. There is no problem that man has created that man cannot solve.

“This requires choices. This also means that whoever the Lebanese public decides to back makes choices, that they implement reforms, and that these reforms are successful.

“This is not the only country in the world that has this kind of economic dysfunction.”

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter. (Instagram)
Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter. (Instagram)
Updated 28 July 2021

In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter. (Instagram)
  • After months of tension with Twitter, Indian government and ministers are keen to promote rival Indian app Koo
  • Unlike Twitter, Koo ccommodates content in eight Indian languages and reached more than 3 million downloads in two days

NEW DELHI: Twitter Inc. is fast losing its sheen as a favored communications tool for many Indian government departments and ministers keen to promote home-grown rival Koo while the US firm comes under fire for non-compliance with India’s laws.
The most high-profile example has been India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Taking office this month, he opened a new Koo account and soon after announced a review of social media firms’ compliance with strict new rules — information not posted to his 258,000 Twitter followers.
“The idea is to create an alternative to Twitter,” said one government official in media relations, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
That sentiment is shared by other ministers and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are irked by what they see as a defiant Twitter, a senior person in the party’s IT department told Reuters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist administration first took umbrage with the US firm in February when it refused to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers protests that have been the biggest display of dissent faced by the government. Twitter argued some requests were not in line with Indian law.
That dispute saw some ministers promote Koo, which unlike Twitter also accommodates content in eight Indian languages, and its downloads surged 10-fold in two days to more than 3 million. Subscriber numbers for the 16-month old platform have since grown to 7 million.
Twitter, which has about 17.5 million users in India, has only seen friction with the government escalate, including over its failure to meet a May 25 deadline for installing compliance and grievance officers mandated under the new social media rules. It has since filled two of the three positions.
It is also now the subject of five police investigations in different parts of India that allege the US company has abused its platform.
Twitter declined to comment on the Indian government’s use of Koo but said it works directly with various ministries and authorities, playing a critical role in disaster management amid the pandemic.
“These institutions and their members seek our strategic counsel to use the power of Twitter by way of training, mobilizing resources, and driving public engagement initiatives,” a spokesperson said.
Underlining Twitter’s reach, Modi, who has 69.8 million Twitter followers, has not yet joined Koo while many government ministers and departments continue to use both platforms even if news on Koo is disseminated first.
India’s IT ministry, the prime minister’s office and the government’s media wing did not respond to requests for comment. The head of the BJP’s IT department, Amit Malviya, declined to comment.
STAGING A KOO
Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter.
State governments are getting in on the act. The disaster management arm of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has pinned a tweet telling its 21,900 followers to join Koo — where it has just 992 followers — for “exclusive and latest updates.”
The cold shoulder that many authorities are now giving Twitter contrasts sharply with the past. Modi and the BJP have used it extensively to connect with the public, particularly ahead of the 2014 election, as well as in diplomacy. And in 2018, Modi and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were all smiles when they met in New Delhi, with the Indian premier tweeting he had made “great friends” on the platform.
Koo says while it has no specific government outreach plan, Modi’s campaign of promoting local businesses has worked in its favor.
“I think it’s a matter of a few more months and you’ll see pretty much everyone is on Koo,” co-founder Mayank Bidawatka said in an interview.
Tech-sector experts don’t see Koo becoming that big that fast but say Koo’s greater local language reach will stand the company in good stead as it pursues long-term growth.


Facebook will restrict ad targeting of under-18s

Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform. (File/AFP)
Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Facebook will restrict ad targeting of under-18s

Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook will stop allowing advertisers to target people under 18 based on their interests or their activity
  • The change means advertisers will soon be able to target under-18s only by age, gender or location on Facebook

LONDON: Facebook Inc. will stop allowing advertisers to target people under 18 on its platforms based on their interests or their activity on other sites, it said on Tuesday in a slew of announcements about young users.
The change means advertisers will soon be able to target under-18s only by age, gender or location on Facebook, its Messenger service and its photo-sharing platform Instagram. In a blog post, Instagram said it was making the change because it agreed with youth advocates that young people might not be equipped to make decisions about targeting.
A Facebook spokesman said there would be no changes to the user data the company collects.
Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform, the company said, in an effort to stop unwanted contact from adults. They will still be given the option, however, to switch to a public account and current users can keep their account public.
Facebook’s approach to younger users has been in the spotlight after US lawmakers and attorneys general slammed its leaked plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under 13. Earlier this year, a group of more than 40 state attorneys general wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to ditch the idea.
The company said on Tuesday it was working on an “Instagram experience for tweens.” It has said the idea of a youth-focused app is to provide parents greater transparency and controls on what younger children who want to access Instagram are doing.
Several major social media companies have also rolled out versions of their apps for younger audiences, from Facebook’s Messenger Kids to Alphabet Inc-owned YouTube Kids.
Proponents argue that children are already on a platform and so a family-friendly version provides a safer environment, but critics say Facebook should not be trying to hook young kids on its services due to risks to their development, mental health and privacy.
Age verification of children is an issue on many social media sites, which prohibit kids under 13 but often fail to identify and remove underage users. In a separate blog on Tuesday, Facebook’s head of youth products, Pavni Diwanji, said it was using artificial intelligence to improve this verification and remove underage accounts.
Instagram also said it was making it harder in several countries for adults who have shown potentially suspicious behavior — such as recently being reported by a young user — to find young people’s accounts, either through searching user names or having the accounts suggested to them. It said it would prevent such adults from seeing comments from young people on others’ posts and that the adults would not be able to leave comments on the posts of young people.


Lebanon’s MTV slammed over deepfake video of Beirut port blast victims

Deepfake of Beirut port blast victim Amin Al-Zahed. (Screenshot)
Deepfake of Beirut port blast victim Amin Al-Zahed. (Screenshot)
Updated 28 July 2021

Lebanon’s MTV slammed over deepfake video of Beirut port blast victims

Deepfake of Beirut port blast victim Amin Al-Zahed. (Screenshot)
  • MTV Lebanon video commemorating the victims of the Beirut port blast has been branded as insensitive by social media users
  • The video featured deepfakes of two victims of the devastating Aug. 4 explosion, Ralph Mallahi and Amin Al-Zahed, speaking directly to the camera

LONDON: An MTV Lebanon video commemorating the victims of the Beirut port blast has been branded as insensitive by social media users.

Titled “A Letter to the Lebanese Judiciary,” the video was shared on MTV online platforms alongside the hashtag, “it’s been a year, the time is up.”

It featured deepfakes of two victims of the devastating Aug. 4 explosion, Ralph Mallahi and Amin Al-Zahed, speaking directly to the camera while pictures and clips from the blast were shown for context.

 

 

But the video was slammed by many people on social media with some calling it inappropriate, especially in the run-up to the first anniversary of the disaster.

 

Mouin Jaber, co-host of the popular Lebanese podcast “Sarde After Dinner,” told Arab News: “It’s dystopian. It’s emotional manipulation and blackmail taken to a whole other uncanny level.

“You’d understand deepfaking someone who passed away a long time ago, such as seeing an (Albert) Einstein deepfake explaining relativity at a museum, but this is something else.

“One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that every single TV station in Lebanon is either backed by a political party, or subject to the highest bidder. And that makes you question the intent of those deepfakes, which put me in an even more uncomfortable position than I want to admit,” he said.

Others described the video as “appalling” and “traumatizing” and claimed that the Lebanese people did not require such forms of media to demand justice.

 

Some even reported the video for causing offence and psychological harm.

 

Hana Fakhoury, a Lebanese civil society groups member, told Arab News: “They’re talking about dead people. They’re putting words in dead people’s mouths.

“The video is going to cause pain. It’s not really going to change anything. It’s not like the (Lebanese) judiciary is going to wake up now and realize that they need to start working,” she said.

With the blast anniversary approaching, many Lebanese who have seen their living conditions deteriorate over the past year, are still awaiting justice.

The huge explosion was caused by the detonation of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate being stored at the port and left more than 200 people dead, at least 6,500 injured, and in excess of 300,000 displaced.

The Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Lebanon declared on Wednesday that Aug. 4 would be a national day of mourning with administrations, public institutions, and municipality functions suspended.


Google takes legal action over Germany’s expanded hate-speech law

The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective. (File/AFP)
The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Google takes legal action over Germany’s expanded hate-speech law

The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective. (File/AFP)
  • Google takes legal action over an expanded version of Germany’s hate-speech law that recently took effect
  • Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law in early 2018, making online social networks responsible for policing and removing toxic content

BERLIN: Google said on Tuesday that it was taking legal action over an expanded version of Germany’s hate-speech law that recently took effect, saying its provisions violated the right to privacy of its users.
The Alphabet unit, which runs video-sharing site YouTube, filed suit at the administrative court in Cologne to challenge a provision that allows user data to be passed to law enforcement before it is clear any crime has been committed.
The request for a judicial review comes as Germany gears up for a general election in September, amid concerns that hostile discourse and influence operations conducted via social media may destabilize the country’s normally staid campaign politics.
“This massive intervention in the rights of our users stands, in our view, not only in conflict with data protection, but also with the German constitution and European law,” Sabine Frank, YouTube’s regional head of public policy, wrote in a blog post.
Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law, known in German as NetzDG, in early 2018, making online social networks YouTube, Facebook and Twitter responsible for policing and removing toxic content.
The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective, and parliament in May passed legislation to toughen and broaden its application.
Google has taken particular issue with a requirement in the expanded NetzDG that requires providers to pass on to law enforcement personal details of those sharing content suspected to be hateful.
Only once that personal information is in the possession of law enforcement is a decision foreseen on whether to launch a criminal case, meaning that data of innocent people could end up in a crime database without their knowledge, it argues.
“Network providers such as YouTube are now required to automatically transfer user data en masse and in bulk to law enforcement agencies without any legal order, without knowledge of the user, only based on the suspicion of a criminal offense,” a Google spokesperson said.
“This undermines fundamental rights, we have therefore decided to have the relevant provisions of the NetzDG judicially reviewed by the competent administrative court in Cologne.”


Home of another investigative journalist in Russia raided

Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure. (File/AFP)
Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Home of another investigative journalist in Russia raided

Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure. (File/AFP)
  • Russian police raids the home of the chief editor of an investigative media outlet which was designated as a foreign agent.
  • The media outlet has investigated high-profile cases, such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

MOSCOW: Police in Russia raided the home of the chief editor of an investigative media outlet that was recently designated as a “foreign agent,” the latest move by authorities to raise pressure on independent media before the country’s September parliamentary election.
The Insider news site chief editor Roman Dobrokhotov tweeted Wednesday morning that “police are knocking” on the door of his apartment, and his wife reported the raid to the OVD-Info legal aid group before her phone became unavailable.
A lawyer from another legal aid group, Pravozashchita Otkrytki, headed to Dobrokhotov’s apartment. The group said police seized cellphones, laptops and tablets during the raid, as well as Dobrokhotov’s international passport. Sergei Yezhov, a journalist with The Insider, said that Dobrokhotov was supposed to leave Russia on Wednesday.
Police also raided the home of Dobrokhotov’s parents, The Insider said.
Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure ahead of September’s voting, which is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before a 2024 presidential election.
The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.
In recent months, the government has designated several independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that could discredit the recipients.
The targeted outlets include VTimes and Meduza. VTimes subsequently shut down, citing the loss of advertisers, and Meduza launched a crowd-funding campaign after encountering the same problem.
The Insider was the latest addition to the list. The news outlet, which is registered in Latvia, has worked with the investigative group Bellingcat to investigate high-profile cases, such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny,
The Russian Justice Ministry acted under a law that is used to designate as foreign agents non-governmental organizations, media outlets and individuals who receive foreign funding and engage in activities loosely described as political.
In comments to the media, Dobrokhotov has said The Insider would continue to operate as usual, in accordance with Latvian laws, and would not comply with the requirements of the foreign agents law.
Russia used the law to levy heavy fines on US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for failing to identify its material as produced by foreign agents. The broadcaster has asked the European Court of Human Rights to intervene.
According to The Insider, the searches targeting Dobrokhotov may be related to a slander case launched in April following a complaint by a Dutch blogger.
The Insider accused Max van der Werff of working with Russian intelligence and military services to spread false information challenging the findings of the official investigation of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.
Pravozashchita Otkrytki said Dobrokhotov was a witness in a criminal case against “unidentified persons” on the charges of slander, launched over a tweet in Dobrokhotov’s account that contains “disinformation about the downed Boeing MH17.”
Earlier this week Russian authorities blocked about 50 websites linked to the imprisoned opposition leader Navalny. The move comes just a month after a court in Moscow outlawed Navalny’s political infrastructure — his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of regional offices — as extremist in a ruling that prevents people associated with the organizations from seeking public office and exposes them to lengthy prison terms.
Navalny, Putin’s fiercest political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation rejected by Russian officials.
In February, the politician was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
His arrest and jailing sparked a wave of mass protests across Russia’s 11 time zones, in what appeared to be a major challenge to the Kremlin. The authorities responded with mass arrests of demonstrators and criminal probes against Navalny’s closest associates.
On Wednesday, Lyubov Sobol, a top ally of Navalny and one of the few in his team who hasn’t left Russia despite being prosecuted on a number of charges, said that Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor demanded Twitter to take down her account.
Sobol tweeted screenshots of a letter she received from Twitter, notifying her of the authorities’ request to block her account as containing “propaganda of activities” of Navalny’s organizations that have been declared extremist.
“What is it, if not the Kremlin’s hysteria ahead of the election?” Sobol wrote. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the platform would comply with the request.