Carlos Ghosn calls himself a "fugitive of injustice"

Carlos Ghosn's great escape

You don't get as far as Carlos Ghosn has come without thinking outside the box.

Correspondent Charlie D'Agata said, "It was a big risk that you took."

"I know, but it was a bigger risk to stay," said Ghosn – a risk that would mean thinking inside the box.

And if they ever make Ghosn's escape into a Hollywood movie, they'll have to begin with the words: "Based on a True Story" to get audiences to believe the plot.

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It's the caper that's captivated the world: the escape from Japan by the former Nissan executive accused of financial wrongdoing, who reportedly hid in a box to be flown out of the country. CBS News

The real story goes that the former Nissan CEO was under house arrest in Tokyo, and 24-hour surveillance, when he gave Japanese security services the slip on December 29.

He boarded a bullet train, undetected, for a three-hour trip to Osaka airport. Here's where the mission began to look impossible, where it could go very wrong:

"Oh, I knew that I was taking risk," Ghosn said. "I knew that, if I was putting people around me in the loop, not only they were taking a risk, but also the risk of any slippage, any rumor, any leak, would be very high, and they would kill any project like this. So, I had to work by myself only with people who are going to operate, you know? There was nobody else. This was a condition.

"And the other condition is, you need to think fast, act fast, and make something simple – daring, but simple."

He doesn't dare share the details for fear of incriminating his cohorts. But it reportedly included a team of around 15 people, including a former U.S. Green Beret, and a price tag running into the millions.

And a box.

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The music equipment crate in which Carlos Ghosn reportedly hid himself to be shipped out of Japan. CBS News

D'Agata asked, "Can we talk about the box?"

"No, I'm not gonna talk about the [box]," he chuckled.

"Everybody's talking about the box."

"Well, good. Good for them. Good for them. Yeah, but I'm the only one who knows exactly what happens," he laughed.

What investigators believe happened is that the industry giant stuffed himself into a box for concert equipment, with holes cut in the bottom so he could breathe, and was spirited away on a private jet bound for Istanbul on route to Beirut. 

Here's what it looked like when a Japanese news reporter tried to get into a box of the same size: 

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Trying it on for size: A Japanese reporter simulates Carlos Ghosn's escape. CBS News

Ghosn was then spirited away on a private jet bound for Istanbul on route to Beirut, where he spoke with CBS News on Friday.

D'Agata said, "Was there a moment in the box that you were thinking, 'What's become of my life?'"

"You know, I'm a very realistic person," Ghosn said. "I know that, you know, success not last forever. Fortune don't last forever. There are ups and down in life. You have to confront tragedy as strongly as you confront success. And even though I didn't have a lot of shortfall, this one was a big one, and it was a test for my resolve and for my character."

How the auto titan fell into trouble is as compelling as how he got out of it.

He was hailed a hero when he pulled Nissan back from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s. The CEO with the rock-star swagger enjoyed the trappings of success, hobnobbing with the global elite in Davos, bobbing around on his $10 million yacht, globetrotting on board private jets, even hosting a Marie Antoinette-themed party at the Palace of Versailles.

But when profits began to plummet in 2018, Nissan executives accused him of not disclosing exactly how much he was taking out of the company, among other charges. He was arrested and charged with financial wrongdoing.

He said authorities kept pushing back his trial date, and that he was barred from even communicating with his wife. And in a country with a 99-percent-plus conviction rate, he said he never stood a chance.

"So, I am sitting here alone in a country which is not mine, in a system that I don't understand," Ghosn said. "I have everything, you know, all red signals everywhere. I said, 'My only hope of being able to defend myself [is to] get out of the country.'"

To make a run for it, regardless of the risk.

At Japan's request, Interpol has issued what it calls a red notice, not only for Ghosn but also his wife, Carole. 

"Whether or not you were guilty of the charges before you fled, you are certainly guilty now of fleeing; you're a fugitive of justice. What's the future hold for you?" asked D'Agata.

"I wouldn't say I'm fugitive of justice; I'm fugitive of injustice," Ghosn said. "That's the way I would put it. I don't feel bad about it, because the way I've been treated, and the way I was looking at the system, frankly, I don't feel any guilt."

Last week the Lebanese government issued their own order, restricting Ghosn from leaving the country until further notice. Not that he's anxious to go anywhere; he's got property here, he grew up here, and remains something of a local hero.

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A street sign showing support in Lebanon. CBS News

"After I landed in Beirut on 30th of December, it was kind of rebirth for me," he said. "It was like, I was breathing again, I was breathing again."

A new life, for now. And Carlos Ghosn says he's willing to face the charges and answer to everything, eventually. Just not in Japan.

So, yes or no: Innocent of all the charges? "Yes," he said.

Did he plan the escape himself? "Yes."

Were Americans involved in the escape? After a pause. He smiled, and replied, "No comment."

Has Hollywood approached him about his story? "Yes."

"Is that a reality? Do you see that happening?" asked D'Agata.

"Why not?"

And then, back to his first question, "was there a box?"

Again, Ghosn smiled. "No comment."

      
Story produced by Leigh C. Kiniry and Jay Kernis.