Autos

Fugitive ex-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn warns foreign CEOs in Japan: 'You're playing with your life'

Key Points
  • In an extended interview with CNBC, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's ex-CEO, warned foreign executives in Japan "you're playing with your life."
  • Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 for alleged financial misconduct and fled to Lebanon last month to avoid criminal prosecution.
  • Ghosn said some of the people he promoted while running Nissan went to prosecutors in Japan accusing him of numerous financial crimes.
VIDEO1:2301:23
Ghosn's warning for international executives doing business in Japan

Three weeks after he escaped from Japan, former Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn is relishing his newfound freedom and his ability to speak out about the Japanese justice system.

He also has a warning for foreign executives in Japan: Watch your back.

Carlos Ghosn, former chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, gestures as he speaks to the media at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut, Lebanon, on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Hasan Shaaban | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"If you're a foreigner working in Japan, you have to be very careful, because unless the system changes, you're playing with your life," Ghosn told CNBC during an extended interview in Beirut, Lebanon.

Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 for alleged financial misconduct that included underreporting his compensation to authorities. He reportedly hid inside a musical instrument case and smuggled himself out of Japan last month to avoid criminal prosecution.

Photo provided by Istanbul Police Department shows the case which former chairman of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn hid in while fleeing from Japan , where he was held in house arrest, to Lebanon in Istanbul, Turkey on January 08, 2020.
Istanbul Police Department | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In the interview, Ghosn said spending more than a year under arrest in Tokyo gave him a sobering view of how some in Japan may view foreign business leaders.

"I'm saying get out," said Ghosn. "If you have the risk of having a problem with your colleague or with your partners, you can be set up, and if you're set up nobody is gonna save you."

Ghosn said some of the people he promoted while running Nissan went to prosecutors in Japan accusing him of numerous financial crimes, including not disclosing millions in deferred compensation.

Since his arrest, Ghosn has vehemently denied the allegations. Now that he's free, the former titan of the auto industry says he is gathering documents to prove his innocence. He says these documents also show Greg Kelly, an American executive at Nissan who was also arrested in November 2018, is innocent.

VIDEO2:0902:09
What's next for Carlos Ghosn?

"I'm also fighting for Greg because he's still in their hands," he said.

Ghosn was adamant that former colleagues at Nissan and some in the Japanese government set him up mainly out of fear he would orchestrate a full merger between the Japanese automaker and its alliance partner Renault. It's a suggestion he dismisses.

While it's unlikely Ghosn's anger at prosecutors in Japan will ever ease, he said he harbors no ill will for the Japanese citizens he interacted with while under house arrest in the country.

"People were very warm in Japan," he said. "The public was very nice, very kind to me."

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Will Ghosn's story become a Hollywood movie?