CARLOS GHOSN, OUSTED NISSAN BOSS, ON TRIAL IN JAPAN for understating his income for years, abuse of his position, breach of trust + financial misconduct, ESCAPED TO LEBANON HIDING IN A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT CASE
ABOVE + BELOW – Carlos Ghosn is a Brazilian-born businessman who also has French and Lebanese nationality. Ghosn has served as the CEO of Michelin North America, chairman and CEO of Renault, chairman of AvtoVAZ, chairman and former CEO of Nissan, and chairman of Mitsubishi Motors.
Carlos Ghosn reportedly fled house arrest in Japan in a musical instrument case, in an audacious Hollywood movie-style escape masterminded by his wife with the assistance of a Gregorian music band and a team of ex-special forces officers.
The escape began when the band arrived at his home in Tokyo, where Ghosn has been held under house arrest and strict police surveillance, according to Lebanese TV news channel MTV. At the end of the performance, as the musicians packed up their instruments, Ghosn – whose height is stated at 1.7m, or just under 5ft 6in, in his Wikipedia entry – apparently slipped into one of the larger cases and was taken to a small local airport.
A private plane was waiting to whisk the former corporate titan to Istanbul, Turkey. From there he appears to have boarded a Bombardier Challenger private jet for a flight to Lebanon, where he arrived before dawn on Monday. The flight path recorded by plane tracking site FlightRadar shows the jet disappear at 4.16am, just as it approached Beirut-Rafic Hariri international airport.
Ricardo Karam, a Lebanese television host and friend of Ghosn who has interviewed him several times, confirmed Ghosn arrived in Lebanon on Monday morning. “He is home,” Karam said. “It’s a big adventure.”
News of the escape came as surprise to the Japanese authorities – who have charged Ghosn with falsifying records about his personal pay in order to enrich himself – and Ghosn’s own legal team.
Both were shocked that the former Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi boss had managed to flee Japan, despite being subject to round-the-clock surveillance and having surrendered all three of his passports. He is a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon.
The Japanese ambassador to Lebanon, Matahiro Yamaguchi, was at a party in Beirut when news of Ghosn’s successful escape started leaking out at about 6pm local time on Monday. Approached by MTV at the party, Yamaguchi said the Japanese government had no information. Yamaguchi was then seen texting furiously before leaving the party abruptly without saying goodbye to his hosts.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Ghosn’s lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was “surprised and baffled” to learn of the escape from a TV news bulletin. Hironaka told reporters he still had all three of his client’s passports in his possession, and there was immediate speculation that Ghosn travelled on a fresh French or Lebanese passport.
“It would have been difficult for him to do this without the assistance of some large organisation,” Hironaka said at a hastily organised press conference. “I want to ask him, ‘How could he do this to us?’
“I wanted to prove he was innocent,” said Hironaka, who last saw Ghosn on Christmas Day. “But when I saw his statement in the press, I thought he doesn’t trust Japan’s courts.”
Japanese immigration officials have no record of Ghosn having left the country, the country’s state broadcaster, NHK, said on Tuesday. The news channel said a person resembling Ghosn was recorded by Lebanese officials as entering the country at Beirut airport under a different name.
A Lebanese foreign ministry official told Reuters that Ghosn entered the country legally on a French passport and using his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures. The French foreign ministry press office said it had no immediate comment.
Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan, meaning it is very unlikely Ghosn will be forced to return.
Ghosn, who was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, moved to Lebanon when he was six and lived in the country before moving to Paris for university. The Lebanese government has been very supportive of Ghosn since his arrest in November 2018 and said he represented “one of Lebanon’s success stories abroad”. After his arrest billboards in Beirut were plastered with the slogan “We are all Carlos Ghosn”.
The escape plan was, according to MTV, organised by Ghosn’s Lebanese wife, Carole, even though he has been prevented from seeing her without express permission from the court as a condition of his ¥1.5bn (£10.5m) bail. For seven months, the couple were unable to speak to each other at all.
“If this is true, we have to assume that this is a breach of bail conditions,” Hironaka said. “His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan’s justice system.”
Ghosn confirmed through a PR agency in New York late on Monday that he was in Beirut. He was staying at a family home with Carole in Beirut’s upmarket Achrafieh neighbourhood, where private security guards and local police officers are standing guard.
A man who described himself as an English neighbour approached the gates on Tuesday morning to leave Ghosn a card reading: “Carlos, welcome home!” The man told Reuters: “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.”
BACKGROUND: Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan ‘was aided by Lebanese officials’
Ousted chairman of Nissan had surrendered his passports as part of his bail conditions
Carlos Ghosn’s flight from criminal charges in Japan to Lebanon was aided by Lebanese state officials who were instructed by political leaders to smooth his arrival.
The former boss of Nissan and Renault landed at Beirut-Rafic Hariri international airport in Lebanon on Monday morning and said in a statement that he was escaping a “rigged” Japanese justice system. He reportedly hid in a musical instrument box to abscond from his house in Tokyo.
In his statement Ghosn said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed”. Ghosn had surrendered his passports as part of his bail conditions and had been barred from leaving Japan.
“I have not fled justice, I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” Ghosn said, adding that he could now “finally communicate freely with the media and look forward to starting next week”.
Ghosn, 65, was ousted as chair of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi carmaking alliance after he was arrested in November 2018 on charges that he had underreported his income from Nissan by $80m (£60m). Ghosn has said the charges were part of a plot by Nissan executives to oust him.
He was awaiting a trial in Tokyo that was due to start in April. Ghosn attended a pre-trial hearing in Tokyo’s district court on Christmas Day.
He was given a low-key but warm welcome in Lebanon, where he is regarded by many as a national hero. Ghosn was born in Brazil but his parents were Lebanese and he spent some of his childhood in Beirut. Armed members of Lebanon’s internal security forces were present on Tuesday outside a Beirut mansion identified in court documents as belonging to Ghosn.
Lebanon’s former foreign minister Gebran Bassil has been a robust backer of the expatriate businessman. Ghosn also enjoys political cover and patronage from several other senior figures in the country’s ruling class, one of whom told the Guardian that he would not be extradited to Japan and said state officials had been instructed by political leaders to ignore arrival formalities for Ghosn at Beirut airport. Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.
Ghosn’s re-entry to a country in which multinational business affairs are opaque and blended into national politics augurs poorly for Japanese prosecutors who remain determined to prosecute him. Cooperation from Lebanese authorities is far from guaranteed, however, and an often lax rule of law is likely to mean the trail of his financial dealings will go cold.
“He’s back now and he’ll be celebrated,” said one senior official. “There’s a lot of admiration for what he’s done in business.”
Ghosn on Tuesday sought to portray himself as a refugee from injustice and political persecution in Japan – which has been heavily criticised for an unusually high rate of convictions and a culture described as “hostage justice” by some experts – rather than as a fugitive from the law. Ghosn had been under strict bail conditions that included 24-hour surveillance and a bond payment of ¥1.5bn (£10.4m) that he will probably now lose.
The statement did not give details of his escape route or how he evaded Japanese authorities, and his representatives declined to comment further. The Lebanese TV news channel MTV reported that Ghosn hid in a musical instruments case before flying to Istanbul and then on to Beirut.
His lawyers were still in possession of three of his passports on Tuesday, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters. However, Reuters reported that senior Lebanese foreign ministry sources said Ghosn had entered Lebanon legally on a French passport and used his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures.
The governments of Lebanon and France both said they had no prior knowledge of Ghosn’s departure from Japan.
Lebanon’s general security directorate said he entered Beirut in a legal manner and there were no reasons for action or legal proceedings against him, according to the Lebanese news agency NNA.
France’s foreign ministry said it was not aware that Ghosn had jumped bail until alerted by the media. Ghosn had received consular assistance from his arrest as well as regular contact by France’s ambassador to Japan, the ministry said in a statement.
The junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said she had been “very surprised” by the news when she learned of it in the media.
Ghosn’s status as the architect of the partnership between Renault and Nissan meant he was formerly able to call on top political connections across the world. The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Ghosn in Tokyo as recently as October, with the knowledge of the current president, Emmanuel Macron.
Ghosn’s flight could have implications for Greg Kelly, the former Nissan director who was accused of aiding and abetting his boss’s efforts to hide extra income. Kelly was due to join Ghosn on trial in Tokyo in April, but the Guardian understands Kelly’s legal team is considering options to have the case dismissed in light of Ghosn’s likely absence.
Kelly faces a single charge related to allegedly concealing Ghosn’s pay, meaning any trial would have to go ahead without one of the two key witnesses. Despite Ghosn’s flight, the intensity of supervision of Kelly is not thought to have increased.
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