Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape injustice in Japan, where he was on bail awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges.
The auto tycoon’s abrupt departure was the latest twist in a rollercoaster journey that saw him fall from boardroom to detention centre and it sparked questions over an embarrassing security lapse in Japan.
In a statement, the 65-year-old tycoon said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system, where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.”
“I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” said Ghosn, who vowed to communicate “freely” with the media “starting next week.”
It is not clear how he managed to leave Japan, as his bail conditions prevent him from exiting the country he had been held in since his sudden arrest in November 2018 sent shockwaves through the business world.
He and his lawyers have repeatedly voiced fears over the impossibility of a fair trial in Japan and have called for the case to be thrown out, citing mis-steps by the prosecutors’ office.
Lebanese media reported Ghosn had flown by private plane from Turkey to Lebanon, where his parents were born and where he spent most of his childhood, after arriving there as a toddler.
Many Lebanese view Ghosn as a symbol of their country’s large diaspora, and a prime example of Lebanese entrepreneurial genius and have been shocked by his arrest.
But in Tokyo, the unexpected turn of events will spark questions about how he could apparently have given authorities the slip.
His Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was “dumbfounded” by the news and confirmed that lawyers were still in possession of Ghosn’s passports.
“I don’t even know if we can contact him. I don’t know how we will proceed beyond that,” Hironaka told reporters.
Public broadcaster NHK cited a foreign ministry official as saying: “He was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities.”
Taichiro Motoe, a lawmaker from Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), said the news had come as a “shock.”
“There have been so many flight cases in 2019 by criminally accused individuals on bail and by those facing imprisonment after their crimes have been confirmed,” said Motoe, calling for “swift and effective” improvements.
– ‘Conspiracy’ –
His sudden departure from Japan is nearly as dramatic as his arrest out of the blue at a Tokyo airport.
Prosecutors stormed his private jet in scenes captured by a local paper, and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions far removed from his sometimes extravagant lifestyle.
He eventually won bail, striding out of the detention centre disguised in a workman’s uniform complete with mask and cap in an apparent bid to fool the world’s media camped outside.
Then one morning in April, he was rearrested on another set of charges just days before he was due to give a hotly anticipated news conference.
He released a video apparently pre-recorded in which he accused “backstabbing” Nissan executives of a “conspiracy”.
Later that month, he was released again on bail — this time leaving in a business suit — and he had been in Tokyo ever since preparing for his trial in “combative” mood, according to his lawyers.
He stands accused of two counts of under-reporting his salary to the tune of 9.23 billion yen ($85 million) from 2010 to 2018, deferring some of his pay and failing to declare this to shareholders.
Prosecutors also allege he attempted to get Nissan to cover around 1.85 billion yen in personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis.
The fourth charge against him is that he allegedly transferred millions from Nissan funds to a dealership in Oman, from which the executive supposedly skimmed off $5 million for his personal use.
He has consistently denied all charges against him, saying they are a “plot” by Nissan executives to get rid of him because they feared he was moving the Japanese firm to a closer tie-up with Renault.
In the meantime, Ghosn has lost the business empire he was once lauded for creating. Sacked from Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, he resigned from Renault — the third firm in the uneasy car alliance he forged.