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Ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn escapes to Lebanon to flee ‘rigged’ Japan legal system

Carlos Ghosn, arrested in Tokyo last year, said he will no longer be held "hostage" and said he did not flee justice, but "injustice and political persecution".

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Paris/Tokyo/Sydney: 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 Tuesday. “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 and that it was a complete surprise to him. 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. The Foreign Ministry declined to comment, and 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.

Terms of Release

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 one-hour video conference in November and another over Christmas, 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 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission both claim he and Nissan violated pay-disclosure rules by being compensated $140 million 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.

Extradition Pacts

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. Neither is it clear how Japan might get Ghosn back: The country has extradition treaties with the U.S. and South Korea, according to the foreign ministry’s website.

Ghosn’s allies have long feared he would be unable to get a fair trial in Japan. His wife Carole told Bloomberg Television last month that he should face trial in France, describing Japan’s “hostage justice system” as one that considers those who are charged “guilty until proven innocent.”

Ghosn was born in Brazil and raised in Lebanon, where he has investments in real estate and vineyards and continues to be viewed as a business icon and wunderkind. His image has been used for national postal stamps.

Ghosn’s incarceration more than a year ago almost immediately won him support from Lebanon, and his fall united the country’s fractious politicians around him. Within days of his arrest, a large billboard featuring his picture loomed over the streets leading to downtown Beirut. “We are all Carlos Ghosn,” it read.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Japan bought a mattress for Ghosn in December 2018 and pushed to have him moved from solitary confinement. Hady Hachem, the chief of cabinet of the minister of foreign affairs, said at the time that the government was also demanding the Lebanese citizen be allowed to contact his family and was making sure he had proper legal representation.

At Ghosn’s house in one of Beirut’s affluent neighborhoods on Tuesday, there were no security guards present and the windows were open. A shop owner across the street said he didn’t think Ghosn was there, adding he didn’t know what had happened until he saw photographers outside the house.

Ghosn’s escape still leaves another ex-Nissan board member, Greg Kelly, facing trial in Japan. “We are studying the implications and don’t believe Mr. Kelly should have been indicted to begin with,” said James Wareham, a Washington-based attorney for Kelly.

Kelly was taken into custody at almost the same time as Ghosn, indicted for allegedly helping the car titan under-report his compensation, and then freed on bail in December 2018. Kelly has denied breaking the law. – Bloomberg


Also read: Carmakers shedding 80,000 jobs globally as electric era upends industry


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. One cannot say it is rigged, but the conviction rate for crime in Japan is something like 90%. Most suspects simply confess. The Japanese value order a lot more than the individual. It may be purely impressionistic, but I don’t support the way Mr Carlos Ghosn has been treated.

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