Business World

Thursday 23 January 2020

Ghosn flees Japan: Secret Lebanon flight to avoid 'rigged' trial

Legal battle: Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn had raised concerns about securing a fair trial
Legal battle: Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn had raised concerns about securing a fair trial

Issam Abdallah and Tim Kelly

Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has claimed he fled to Lebanon to escape a "rigged" justice system in Japan, raising questions about how one of the world's most-recognised executives had slipped away while on bail.

"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, 65, said in a brief statement yesterday. "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."

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 denies - including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East. Nissan sacked him as chairman, alleging internal investigations revealed misconduct, including understating his salary while he was its CEO, and transferring $5m (€4.5m) of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.

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Mr Ghosn was initially released in March on a record $9m bail, only to be arrested on related charges weeks later and then released on bail again at the end of April.

It was unclear how Mr Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan.

He had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports.

According to a senior Lebanese foreign ministry source, Mr Ghosn entered the country legally on a French passport, and using his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures.

The French and Lebanese foreign ministries both said they were unaware of the circumstances of his journey.

"All discussion of it is his private matter," the Lebanese ministry added.

Lebanon's state security directorate said Mr Ghosn would not face any legal consequences for the way he entered the country, the NNA news agency reported.

The foreign ministry said Lebanon did not have a judicial cooperation agreement with Japan.

Japanese authorities had no record of Mr Ghosn leaving, its 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 legal representative, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.

Mr Ghosn's abrupt departure marks the latest twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardised the alliance of Nissan and top shareholder Renault, and increased scrutiny of Japan's judicial system.

The case has also sparked international criticism of Japan's justice system, in which 99.9pc of people charged with crimes are convicted, and defence lawyers are prohibited from being present during interrogations that can last eight hours a day.

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.

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'.

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 auto maker and its biggest shareholder, Renault - of which Mr Ghosn was also chairman.



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