Carlos Ghosn, former chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. (Reuters: Regis Duvignau)
Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has said he is in Lebanon after fleeing what he called a “rigged” justice system in Japan, raising questions about how one of the world’s most-recognised executives slipped away while on bail.
- Mr Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday
- It’s unclear how Mr Ghosn was able leave Japan while on bail
- He has accused Japan’s legal system of denying basic human rights, which Japan denies
Mr Ghosn’s abrupt departure marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardised the alliance of Nissan and top shareholder Renault and cast a harsh light on Japan’s judicial system.
“I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied,” Mr Ghosn said in a brief statement.
“I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.”
Tokyo officials have previously said the system is not inhumane and that Mr Ghosn, who is facing trial on financial misconduct charges he denies, has been treated like any other suspect.
It was unclear how Mr Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan, given that he had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports.
Lebanese broadcaster MTV cited an official source as saying that Mr Ghosn entered Lebanon using a French passport.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said they had no immediate comment on that report.
Outside what is believed to be Mr Ghosn’s gated villa in the Achrafieh neighbourhood of Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters: Mohamed Azak)
Mr Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday, according to Reuters sources.
However, immigration authorities had no record of Mr Ghosn leaving the country, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said.
A person resembling him entered Beirut international airport under a different name, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.
His lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.
Mr Hironaka, in comments broadcast live on NHK, said the first he had heard of Mr Ghosn’s departure was on the news this morning and that he was surprised.
He also said it was “inexcusable behaviour”.
‘We are all Carlos Ghosn’
Japan has extradition treaties with only the United States and South Korea, according to the justice ministry, meaning it could be difficult to force Mr Ghosn to return to stand trial.
While his arrest on financial misconduct charges last year ensured a dramatic fall from grace in Japan, he retains more popularity in Lebanon, where billboards saying “We are all Carlos Ghosn” were erected in his support and he was previously featured on a postage stamp.
Born in Brazil of Lebanese ancestry, Mr Ghosn grew up in Beirut and has retained close ties to Lebanon.
At Ghosn’s gated villa in the Achrafieh neighbourhood of Beirut, a handful of police and private security personnel stood guard on Tuesday (local time).
A man who identified himself only as his English neighbour walked by to leave a card, with the words “Carlos, welcome home!” written inside.
However, it is not confirmed whether he was at the property.
“It’s a good thing that at last he’s out of being locked up for something which he may or may not — probably not — have done,” said the neighbour.
A French minister said she was “very surprised” by news of his emergence in Lebanon.
A spokeswoman for the Lebanese embassy in Tokyo said, “we did not receive any information” on the matter.
Mr Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018, shortly after his private jet touched down at the airport.
He faces four charges, which he has denied, including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East.
Nissan sacked him as chairman as internal investigations revealed misconduct including understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $US5 million ($7.1 million) of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.
The case put a spotlight on Japan’s criminal justice system, which allows suspects to be detained for long periods and prohibits defence lawyers from being present during interrogations that can last eight hours a day.
Mr Ghosn was initially released in March on a record $US9 million ($12 million) bail only to be arrested on related charges weeks later and then released on bail again at the end of April.
His movement and communications have been monitored and restricted to prevent his fleeing the country and tampering with evidence, the Tokyo District court previously said.
The terms of his bail have also been striking by Western standards. He has been prevented from communicating with his wife, Carole, and had his use of the internet and other communications curtailed.
Carole is now with him in Lebanon at a house with armed guards outside, the New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Ghosn did not believe he would get a fair trial in Japan and was “tired of being an industrial political hostage”, one person told The Wall Street Journal.
A person familiar with Nissan’s thinking told Reuters: “I think he gave up fighting the prosecutors in court.”
The trial was widely expected to start in April. Mr Ghosn’s Japanese lawyers have fought, so far unsuccessfully, to get access to 6,000 pieces of evidence collected from Nissan, which they say is crucial to a fair trial.
Mr Ghosn has said he is the victim of a boardroom coup, accusing former Nissan colleagues of “backstabbing” and describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing closer ties between the Japanese automaker and its biggest shareholder Renault, of which Ghosn was also chairman.
His lawyers have asked the court to dismiss all charges, accusing prosecutors of colluding with government officials and Nissan executives to oust him to block any takeover by Renault.