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Carlos Ghosn defies Japanese law, flies to Lebanon

Former Renault-Nissan chairperson Carlos Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, in a video released by his Japanese lawyers in April 2019.
Former Renault-Nissan chairperson Carlos Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, in a video released by his Japanese lawyers in April 2019. Reuters/Issei Kato

Former Renault-Nissan chairperson Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday he has flown to Lebanon from Japan, where he was on bail pending trial on charges of financial misconduct. Lebanese officials said Ghosn had travelled on a French passport.

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Ghosn, 65, said he had left Japan to avoid “injustice and political persecution” over allegations that he siphoned millions of euros’ worth of funds from the powerful Renault-Nissan alliance of carmakers when he headed the company.

“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,” Ghosn said in a statement on Tuesday.

“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” said the former tycoon, who has repeatedly voiced fears a fair trial would be impossible in Japan.

Ghosn promised to talk “freely” with the media “starting next week”.

French passport

Ghosn’s departure was the latest twist in a saga that saw him fall from his position at the helm of the powerful alliance of French and Japanese auto manufacturers and spend more than 100 days in a Tokyo jail.

His flight raised many questions over how he was able to leave Japan, since his bail conditions meant surrendering his three passports, forbidding overseas travel and living under strict surveillance.

Lebanese officials said Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, had entered legally via Turkey using a French passport and using his Lebanese identity papers with normal security procedures.

France’s foreign ministry said it had no immediate comment about the use of a French passport.

Ghosn’s parents were born in Lebanon and he spent most of his childhood there after moving from Brazil, where he was born and left as a toddler.

Japanese lawyer ‘dumbfounded’

Japanese legal officials expressed confusion over how Ghosn had managed to leave the country.

Prosecutors gave no official response. Japanese media cited anonymous sources in the prosecutor’s office saying they did not know how Ghosn had left.

Ghosn’s main defence lawyer said he has had no contact with his client for a week and did not know how the former chief executive could have left the country.

“We were completely caught by surprise. I am dumbfounded,” Junichiro Hironaka told reporters, adding he did not know how to reach Ghosn and learned about the departure on television.

Hironaka added his team of lawyers were still in possession the three passports surrendered under bail conditions. He also said Ghosn’s departure was “inexcusable”.

French government ‘surprised’

French junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said Tuesday she was “very surprised” by the news, which she said she learned of via the media.

She told France Inter radio that no one was above the law but that Ghosn, as a French citizen, would be eligible for French consular support.

Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 and was expected to face trial in April 2020.

He won bail after more than 100 days in custody, only to be arrested on new charges in April 2019, just days before he was due to give a news conference.

He released a video at the time accusing “backstabbing” Nissan executives of a “conspiracy”.

Ghosn is accused of two counts of underreporting his salary by about 75 million euros from 2010 to 2018, using Nissan funds to cover personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis and allegedly skimming company funds for personal use.

He has denied charges against him and said they are a “plot” by Nissan executives to get rid of him because they feared a closer tie-up between Nissan and the much smaller Renault.

After his arrest, Ghosn was sacked from Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, another part of the alliance, and resigned from Renault.

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