Frankly Speaking: Fugitive motor mogul Carlos Ghosn ready to stand trial in ‘a fair and neutral jurisdiction’

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Updated 19 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: Fugitive motor mogul Carlos Ghosn ready to stand trial in ‘a fair and neutral jurisdiction’

Carlos Ghosn being interviewed on Frankly Speaking.
  • 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


Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
Updated 23 min 51 sec ago

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
  • Rights group issues conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians
  • Such attacks violate ‘the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians’

JERUSALEM: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war against the Hamas militant group in May.
The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.
The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
The report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated crisis and conflict director at HRW. He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.
The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. In all, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars toward Israel, while Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets linked to Gaza militants.
In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the Al-Kawlaks.
Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and suggested the damage to the homes was unintentional.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that Israel had not warned any of the residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also it found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.
Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile.”
“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.
The third attack it investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.
HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a US-made guided missile. It said Israel has said that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building. But the group said no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and UN officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.
Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Tuesday’s report, it called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any potential wrongdoing by its army and that the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.


Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
  • The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784

DUBAI: Almost 2 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Oman since the start of the country’s National Immunization Campaign. 

This represents 53% of the targeted population, the state-owned Oman News Agency said. 

The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784 while the number of those who took two doses stood at 338,523, it said. 

Muscat governorate came first in the number of vaccinated people that reached 618,264 (55% of the target category) followed by North Al Batinah with 234,808 (39%), then South Al Batinah with 153,277 (45%).


Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
Updated 27 July 2021

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
  • In his first interview as prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati said he plans ‘to form a government of specialists’ to rescue country from its economic crisis
  • He said: ‘I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran’ and ‘we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country’

BEIRUT: In his first interview after being appointed Lebanon’s prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, Najib Mikati promised the Lebanese people he will “tell the truth about everything.”

Mikati won the backing of the Lebanese parliament on Monday, receiving 72 votes out of a possible 118. He replaces Saad Hariri, who resigned as PM-designate on July 15 after nine months of failed negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government.

In an exclusive interview with Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Mikati said that “Hariri’s patriotic feeling prompted him to step down.” He also stated that “there are international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”

Mikati said that he wants “to form a government of specialists so that we can implement” a previously proposed French initiative that is “capable of helping Lebanon.”

As a result of fuel shortages, Lebanon has been hit but power outages recently, and Mikati stressed the need to “address the electricity problem.”

The country is also experiencing an ongoing financial crisis, during which the currency has lost most of its value. Mikati said that “banks are experiencing difficulties but work can be done to solve them.”

As for the challenge of forming a new government, almost a year after the previous authority resigned in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, Mikati said: “President Michel Aoun is betting on the government and wants to save the country. I told him that I will visit Baabda Palace as soon as (possible) to start forming the government.”

He added: “I have been assigned to continue (this task) and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can carry out this task.

“I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We are with the Arab option, and we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.”

Two Christian parliamentary groups refused to nominate Mikati during the consultations that led to his appointment, but he said he “understands their position and it is not personal.” He added that his relationship with them “is excellent and is based on respect.” He pointed out that the country is on the cusp of parliamentary elections and predicted that the groups “will support me from the outside because they are looking forward to four years in parliament.”

Talking about the Beirut explosion, Mikati said it “is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought in the ammonium nitrate.” It was stored at the port without proper safety precautions and caused the disaster. He said that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the blast, “is a man of conscience.”

In 2019 Mikati faced corruption charges relating to housing loans, but he told An-Nahar he “did not commit any infringements.”

A businessman who does not represent a particular political party or bloc, Mikati has served as PM on two previous occasions: on a caretaker basis for three months in 2005 and from June 2011 until February 2014.


Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
Updated 8 min 58 sec ago

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
  • Ennahda party at the receiving end of anger over perceived government mismanagement of pandemic
  • Slow vaccine rollout, lax observance of safety protocols and spreading delta variant seen as contributing factors

DUBAI: Hasna Worshafani, a Dubai-based paralegal, had not been able to visit her parents in their native Tunisia for more than a year owing to COVID-19 air travel restrictions.

But just as the curbs began to be lifted, the North African country was struck by a devastating new wave of virus cases, forcing her to postpone her trip once again.

“The plan was to spend Eid Al-Adha with my parents, but because the situation back home is not okay, and there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, I decided to put travel plans on hold until things settled a little,” Worshafani, a mother of two children, told Arab News.

Tunisia is among five African states in the throes of a devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. The country, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported more than 18,600 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March last year.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters rallied in the capital, Tunis, and other cities demanding the government’s resignation in the face of pandemic-linked economic and political troubles. By the end of the day, President Kais Saied had announced the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of Hichem Mechichi from the post of prime minister.

Hospitals have struggled with oxygen shortages and a lack of staff and ICU beds, prompting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France and Egypt among other countries to send emergency medical supplies and vaccine doses to Tunisia.

Authorities have also failed to implement a speedy vaccine rollout. Fewer than a million people — about eight percent of the population — have been fully vaccinated, even as the caseload has surged to one of the highest in Africa.

While there are several reasons for the uptick in COVID-19 cases, many Tunisians hold the Islamist Ennahda — the largest party in parliament — responsible for the deteriorating economic, social and health conditions since its entry into power in 2019.

Analysts say the shibboleths of democracy and pluralism that roll off the Islamists’ lips during election season may not assuage the public’s fears and anxieties stemming from the collapse of the health system and the parlous state of the economy.

One Tunisian expat said that lockdowns and travel bans became ‘unbearable for many people.’ (AFP)

Pointing to the scenes of jubilation that greeted the presidential announcement on Sunday night and the reports of attempts to storm Ennahda offices in multiple cities, the analysts say Tunisia’s Islamists will wait to see which way the political wind blows before flexing their muscles. As things stand, mass unemployment and declining state services have eroded public support for democracy.

Although Ennahda, along with leftists, supported Saied in the 2019 presidential election, their relations began to sour since the start of the pandemic. A prolonged deadlock between the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament was seen as a major reason behind the government’s bungled response to the latest COVID-19 wave.

Mechichi, who was appointed head of government exactly one year ago, had overseen an unruly cabinet rocked by ministerial resignations and tensions with President Saied. As soaring COVID-19 cases swamped Tunisia’s hospitals, he sacked the health minister this month. But the move was seen by many as a case of too little too late.

None of this is to say politicians are solely to blame for the COVID-19 catastrophe in Tunisia. Similar to much of the world in the spring of 2020, the country implemented a full lockdown. The strategy proved extremely effective, with Tunisia reporting zero cases for a period of 40 days. But when the borders were reopened in June and tourists began to return, cases suddenly shot up.

Bureaucrats in much of North Africa failed to anticipate the impact of at least three factors when they decided to relax lockdowns or open up borders. The first is the high transmissibility of the delta variant, thought to have originated in India. The second is dwindling compliance with hygiene and social-distancing measures, and the third is the extremely low rate of vaccination.

“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.

He said some countries “invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while others focused on enforcing public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Public anger over the lax government response to post-revolution security threats has haunted the ruling Ennahda party. (AFP)

However, poor compliance has been widely observed in Tunisia, contributing to a surge in cases of the delta variant. “That is actually what is driving the new surge of cases in North Africa, as well as other countries in the region,” Abubakar said.

To bring down the caseload, Abubakar wants the public to adhere to government restrictions on movement and mass gatherings.

“Governments need to reinforce restrictions. But, most importantly, people need to understand the reason why governments are imposing restrictions: Because of safety, health, and protection,” he said.

“People need to comply and respect that. They need to wear masks. They need to respect physical distancing. They need to promote handwashing and cleaning and they need to get vaccinated. They need to avoid any big social gatherings and travel.”

Abubakar is confident the situation in Tunisia and other African countries can be brought under control. For now, he is more concerned about the shortage of oxygen across the region.

“Literally, everywhere we are going through this. People are dying simply because there is not enough oxygen. We have never prioritized it and now this is something we need to do, and it is very easy to do as long as there is commitment and resources,” he said.

Worshafani, the Tunisian expat in Dubai, thinks the situation has deteriorated in her home country for one simple reason: Lockdowns and travel bans had become unbearable for many households.

“Authorities can’t impose a full lockdown for long, because the economy can’t take such a hit after peoples’ lives were badly affected by the lockdowns last year,” she said.

“The cost of living in Tunisia has steadily increased during the past 10 years. People have lost patience.”

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Palestinian teenager dies of wounds sustained in May clashes

Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Palestinian teenager dies of wounds sustained in May clashes

Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
  • The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a militant training site belonging to the strip’s Hamas Islamist rulers in southern Khan Younis, said Palestinian security sources

JERUSALEM:: A 17-year-old Palestinian died on Monday, two months after he was wounded in the neck by Israeli gunfire during clashes near the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health authorities said.
The shooting occurred during one of numerous clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces during the 11-day war in May between Israel and Hamas, the fourth conflict since the militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
A statement from Palestinian health authorities said Youssef Nawaf died after a May 14 gunshot wound in the neck damaged his spinal cord, leaving him in critical condition.
At least 26 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank during the May fighting, according to the UN.
At least 254 people were killed in Gaza, including 67 children and 39 women, while 12 civilians, including two children and one soldier, were killed in Israel.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war.
The Palestinians seek the area as the heartland of a future independent state.
On Friday, another Palestinian youth — Mohammed Tamimi, 17 — was shot and killed by Israeli troops during clashes in Nebi Saleh.
The village has been the scene of numerous demonstrations over the years against the expansion of a nearby Israeli settlement on what the Palestinians say is their land.
Israel hit Gaza with airstrikes on Sunday after incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave caused fires in the Jewish state, with no reported injuries on either side.

FASTFACT

Youssef Nawaf, 17, died on Monday after a May 14 gunshot wound in the neck damaged his spinal cord, leaving him in critical condition.

The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a militant training site belonging to the strip’s Hamas Islamist rulers in southern Khan Younis, said Palestinian security sources.
The strikes came after Israel cut by half the fishing zone off the blockaded coastal territory, a common response following projectile attacks by armed groups in Gaza.
Israel’s army had no immediate comment on the strikes.
But the military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) said the fishing zone had been reduced from 12 nautical miles to six.
“The decision was made following the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, which constitutes a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” it said in a statement.
Hamas was “responsible for all activities within the Gaza Strip and all actions originating in the Gaza Strip directed toward the state of Israel,” COGAT said.
“It will therefore bear the consequences for the violence committed against the citizens of the state of Israel.”
Israeli firefighters earlier said they extinguished brush blazes at three spots in the Eshkol region near the border, blaming blaming “incendiary balloons” as the cause.
The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland surrounding the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
On July 12, Israel announced it was re-expanding the fishing zone off Gaza and allowing additional imports into the Palestinian territory but warned the measure could be reversed in response to fresh unrest.