WORLD

From boardroom to prison: Ghosn still CEO at heart

By AFP
  • Published : Jan 31, 2019 - 20:32
  • Updated : Jan 31, 2019 - 20:32

Carlos Ghosn started his interview like an executive running a board meeting.

"We don't have too much time, so let's start," he told two reporters from AFP and French daily Les Echos, as if calling unruly shareholders to order.

But this was no boardroom or business meeting: this was the 10th floor of the Kosuge detention centre in Tokyo, where he has languished since Japanese prosecutors stormed his private jet brandishing allegations of financial misconduct.



Clad in a black tracksuit and translucent plastic prison slippers, the former head of the world's biggest selling auto alliance strode into the room in a confident mood.

He spoke English in a clear and confident voice as he steered the interview, his first with non-Japanese media since his November 19 arrest.

The meeting took place in a room roughly six metres square (65 square feet) and Ghosn was separated from the two reporters by a screen.

He was flanked by two detention centre guards, one taking notes at a wooden desk, the other precisely measuring the alloted 15 minutes.

Ghosn was not noticeably thinner, but he was greyer at the roots, his hair slightly dishevelled.

The 64-year-old maintained eye contact as he delivered comments crackling with restrained anger and passion.

He spoke of his family, saying the hardest thing about his detention was not being able to talk to his daughters and wife Carole. His oldest daughter turned 29 and he could not wish her a happy birthday -- the first time ever.

Despite his detention, he also declared his love for Japan and for Nissan, to which he "dedicated so many years to revive... to rebuild it again, to turn it into a powerhouse."

And for the first time, he provided a thorough account of his conditions.

A light on constantly while sleeping. No watch and "no sense of time". Half an hour a day to pace around on the roof. He said he was "craving" fresh air.

"Yes I am strong but obviously I am tired," he said.

The detention centre itself was lightly guarded, with neither barbed wire nor officers outside -- more like a hospital than a building holding people on death row.

Visitors waiting to see loved-ones sat calmly on chairs, in front of a big screen showing cookery programmes or debates in the Japanese parliament.

Just near the entrance sat a small shop selling produce for detainees. 'Here could be found all types of reading matter to while away the time: manga, sport, magazines featuring scantily clad women. All of it was only in Japanese.

All types of snacks were available, along with blankets for chilly prisoners.

As in the majority of Japanese public areas, the guards and shop staff were polite to a fault.

To enter the prison, visitors first fill out a form -- Name Of Inmate: Carlos Ghosn. The reporters were assigned visitor number 117.

After a short wait, personal effects were placed in a locker, leaving the two reporters only with pen and paper -- no dictaphone or other recording device were allowed.

The two reporters were not even accompanied as they made their way along a grey-walled corridor up to the 10th floor for the interview.

A guard showed the way and quickly the journalists found themselves about a metre away from one of the world's most famous prisoners, separated only by a thin screen.

In only 15 minutes, Ghosn covered an enormous amount of ground, taking about his love for his family, Japan and Nissan, but also his sense of betrayal and his difficult conditions.

Refusing him bail for such a long period "would not be normal in any other democracy of the world," he charged.

The 15 minutes passed in an instant. The reporters tried to sneak in a final question but Ghosn was gently ushered to the exit.

"Come and see me again soon!" he chirped, before being led back to his cell. (AFP)