Feisty Ghosn relishes spotlight after Japan ordeal

Tony Gamal-Gabriel
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Feistry and gesticulating widely Ghosn captivated an audience of top-tier journalists for nearly three hours to discuss his ordeal in Japan but not a word on how he escaped

Feistry and gesticulating widely Ghosn captivated an audience of top-tier journalists for nearly three hours to discuss his ordeal in Japan but not a word on how he escaped (AFP Photo/JOSEPH EID)

Beirut (AFP) - A lavish Versailles party, persecution by Japanese authorities, a Nissan-Renault merger. Shifting smoothly between topics in four languages, a pugnacious Carlos Ghosn Wednesday launched into a long-awaited media counter-attack.

In a room packed with top-tier journalists who flocked to his native Lebanon from all corners of the world, the 65-year-old spoke like a man who had been silenced for 14 months.

For nearly three hours, he lapped up the attention from the media scrum, then took questions in English, French, Arabic and Portuguese, skipping from one to the other without pause.

Gesticulating widely, the savvy orator juggled numbers from the top of his head and delivered uninterrupted answers to every question.

He allowed himself only a brief pause to drink water, wipe sweat from his face in the overheated room, and hug his wife Carole seated in the front row.

Dressed in a slick grey suit far removed from the worker's outfit he donned in the past year to evade media attention, Ghosn seemed to relish being back in control of his narrative.

"For the first time since the nightmare began, I can defend myself and speak freely," he said at the start of his news conference in Beirut, where he arrived last month after skipping bail in Japan.

An audience of journalists listened carefully to his words, laughed when he made jokes, and screamed over each other when the time came for questions.

- 'Many mission impossibles' -

Ghosn knew some by name, called others his "friends", and flattered a few by praising their strong questions.

He also did little to temper his reputation as a man worthy of a Hollywood plot.

"I am used to what you call mission impossibles. I have been in many mission impossibles," he said when asked about his potential future as an internationally wanted fugitive.

The bulk of his news conference was dedicated to debunking what he said were fabricated charges against him, but he did not discuss the conditions of his escape, to the dismay of many.

His imprisonment and trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, he said, where a product of collusion.

"I have come to learn that my unimaginable ordeal over the past 14 months is the result of a handful of unscrupulous, vindictive individuals at Nissan, and the Latham & Watkins law firm, with the support of the Tokyo prosecutor's office," he said.

He also defended himself over a party he threw in the French palace of Versailles to mark the 15th anniversary of the Renault-Nissan alliance, which coincided with his birthday.

"Some people think that I am in prison because of Versailles," he scoffed, dismissing accusations he used company money to celebrate his birthday.

He said the setting was selected because it embodied French genius and is attractive to foreigners.

- 'A real Samurai' -

The ex-Nissan chief also described the conditions of his detention in Japan.

"130 days in prison, solitary confinement, a tiny cell without windows, lights (on) day and night," he said.

He said he was "interrogated day and night ... up to eight hours, obviously without the presence of a lawyer."

He described feeling as though he had died during his detention and feeling he had come back to life with the escape and his arrival in Lebanon.

"I'm surrounded by friends in Lebanon, by people who respect me and who are proud of me, which I really needed after the ordeal I have been through."

A Lebanese acquaintance, who greeted the car magnate before the presser started, asked him if he was ready to help rescue the small Mediterranean country from economic collapse.

"If I'm asked to use my experience to help this country, I am ready," Ghosn said, though not as a politician.

His journalist friend Ricardo Karam told AFP he was impressed by the auto tycoon.

"He was calm, especially when he spoke of personal issues -- his family, his children, his wife.

"He was strong, a real Samurai."