PARIS: Carlos Ghosn, the fallen automotive titan facing trial in Japan for financial crimes, fled to Lebanon to escape what he described as a “rigged Japanese justice system.”
It’s a stunning turn of events in a saga that began with his shock arrest in Tokyo just over a year ago. Lebanon, where he grew up and has citizenship, puts the former head of Nissan Motor Co and Renault SA in a country with no extradition agreement with Japan.
“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 an e-mailed statement. “I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
The 65-year-old has said he’s the victim of a conspiracy between Nissan executives, prosecutors and government officials to prevent him from further integrating the company with Renault.
“Ghosn has turned into a fugitive from a suspect, ” said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co. “Ghosn will probably never return to Japan, or more to the point, he won’t be able to as he would be arrested immediately.”
He was awaiting trial for what prosecutors and his former colleagues at Nissan called a pervasive pattern of financial misconduct and raiding of corporate resources for personal gain – allegations that Ghosn has denied.
Ghosn’s attorney, Junichiro Hironaka, said in televised comments that he had no idea about his client’s escape until he learned about it on the news.
The legal team obeyed the rules of Ghosn’s bail but wasn’t able to watch over him 24 hours a day, Hironaka said. Lawyers have all of Ghosn’s passports so it’s likely Ghosn entered Lebanon through a different name, he said.
No one answered the phone at the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office, the Tokyo District Court and the Immigration Bureau of Japan, and nobody was available to comment at the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A Nissan representative said the company had no comment. Japan is on public holiday from Tuesday through the end of the week.
Ghosn, a globetrotter who for years was a regular at events frequented by the rich and famous – including the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – was released on bail in April under the condition that he live at a registered address and not leave Japan.
The strict terms of his release were designed to prevent him from absconding. He wasn’t permitted to spend more than one night away from his house without a judge’s permission. A video camera was trained on his front door, and at the end of each month, Ghosn was required to provide a list of everyone he’d met.
Other than a single, one-hour video-conference in November, Ghosn wasn’t allowed to see or speak to his wife Carole, either.
On bail around town, the former executive was tailed by unmarked sedans. At parks or restaurants, men would get out of the cars and follow him on foot.
Ghosn’s overseas travel ban was still in place when he fled to Lebanon, according to Kyodo.
History shows beating a criminal charge in Japan is almost impossible. Courts there have a nearly 100% conviction rate as Japanese prosecutors have a range of procedural advantages unavailable to Western counterparts. In many cases, the prosecution can introduce evidence obtained without a proper warrant.
Japanese prosecutors and the US Securities and Exchange Commission both claim he and Nissan violated pay-disclosure rules by being compensated US$140mil more than the company reported to shareholders.
Ghosn also faces breach-of-trust charges related to transactions that transferred personal investment losses to Nissan, and that moved money from a dealership in Oman into a company he controls in Lebanon.
It’s not clear how Ghosn left Japan since his passport was confiscated as part of the conditions of bail. According to Lebanese media, he arrived on a private jet from Turkey. — Bloomberg
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