Facing trial, ex-Nissan chief flees Japan for Lebanon

January 01, 2020

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Carlos Ghosn.—AFP
Carlos Ghosn.—AFP

BEIRUT: Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said on Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape injustice in Japan, where he was on bail awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges.

The auto tycoon’s abrupt departure was the latest twist in a rollercoaster journey that saw him fall from boardroom to detention centre and sparked questions over an embarrassing security lapse in Japan.

In a statement, the 65-year-old said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system, where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied”.

It was not clear how he managed to leave Japan, as his bail conditions barred him from exiting the country he had been held in since his sudden arrest in November 2018 sent shockwaves through the business world.

He and his lawyers have repeatedly voiced fears over the impossibility of a fair trial in Japan and have called for the case to be thrown out, citing missteps by the prosecutors’ office.

Ghosn cannot be sent back to Japan because there is no extradition agreement between the two countries, a Lebanese judicial source said.

Lebanese media reported Ghosn had flown by private plane from Turkey to Lebanon, where his parents were born and where he spent most of his childhood after arriving there as a toddler.

Many Lebanese view Ghosn as a symbol of their country’s large diaspora and a prime example of Lebanese entrepreneurial genius and were shocked by his arrest.

But in Tokyo, the unexpected turn of events sparked questions about how he gave authorities the slip. His Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was “dumbfounded” by the news and confirmed that lawyers were still in possession of Ghosn’s passports.

Ghosn’s sudden departure was nearly as dramatic as his arrest at a Tokyo airport.

Prosecutors stormed his private jet and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions far removed from his sometimes extravagant lifestyle.

He eventually won bail, striding out of the detention centre disguised in a workman’s uniform complete with mask and cap in an apparent bid to fool the world’s media camped outside.

Then one morning in April, he was rearrested on another set of charges just days before he was due to give a hotly anticipated news conference.

Later that month, he was released again on bail — this time leaving in a business suit — and he had been in Tokyo ever since preparing for his trial in “combative” mood, according to his lawyers.

He stands accused of two counts of under-reporting his salary to the tune of 9.23 billion yen ($85 million) from 2010 to 2018, deferring some of his pay and failing to declare this to shareholders.

Prosecutors also allege he attempted to get Nissan to cover around 1.85 billion yen in personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020