Former auto executive Carlos Ghosn will reveal details about his daring secret escape to Lebanon from Japan on Jan. 8th according to a Wednesday report from Reuters. The news service also reported that the Lebanese citizen met with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on Monday.
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The headline-grabbing breakout followed weeks of planning by associates aimed at getting the former auto executive to a country they believed would provide a more friendly legal environment to try the claims of financial wrongdoing against him, according to people familiar with the matter.
Last weekend, a team assembled to carry out his exfiltration, aided by accomplices in Japan, sprung the plan into action, one of these people said. Ghosn was spirited from his court-monitored residence in Tokyo onto a private jet, bound for Turkey. Ghosn then continued by plane to Lebanon, landing there early Monday morning, according to people familiar with the matter. There, he met his wife, Carole Ghosn, who played a major role in the operation, these people said.
In a text message to a reporter, Ghosn described being reunited with her husband as the "best gift of my life.”
Ghosn’s plan, one of these people said, is to clear his name by seeking a trial in Lebanon, his ancestral homeland and a place where he is regarded as something of a national hero. Ghosn’s advocates believe that under Lebanese law, prosecutors there could work with Japanese counterparts to bring a case — albeit in conditions Ghosn regards as more favorable than those in Japan, according to this person.
Japanese prosecutors haven’t yet commented on the move, but have previously defended their legal system and said Ghosn would get a fair trial. Lebanese law allows for citizens to be prosecuted for crimes committed overseas, as long as the offense is a crime in Lebanon, too. Whether Lebanese, or Japanese, authorities would agree to take that legal route— if applicable to Ghosn — is unclear.
Back in Japan, Ghosn, the former leader of Renault SA, Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., is charged with financial crimes, including causing Nissan to fail to report more than $80 million in planned future income on the company’s financial statements and directing Nissan money to be spent for his personal benefit. He said he was innocent of all the charges, and vowed to fight those charges in a trial that was expected to kick off in 2020.
His flight upends that legal showdown, but raises questions about his legal jeopardy in Lebanon and elsewhere. So far, he has received a warm welcome in Lebanon. Officials in Beirut on Tuesday said he arrived in the country legally and authorities wouldn’t take any action against him.
Ghosn has characterized the move as one made to escape a justice system he believes is stacked against him. “I have not fled justice—I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters on Tuesday morning. He complained of “a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed.”
Ghosn now faces the prospect of an extended stay in Lebanon, should Japan decide to pursue an international arrest warrant. Lebanon doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Japan.
Ghosn’s decision to flee Japan surprised Ghosn’s own lawyer in Japan. Junichiro Hironaka said he last saw Ghosn on Dec. 25, and was planning to meet him again in January. He said, without providing details, that Ghosn’s flight might have taken a “big organization” to arrange.
Hironaka also said the legal team was still holding Ghosn’s French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports. Ghosn entered Lebanon with a French passport and a Lebanese identification card, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Ghosn’s decision to take flight has its roots in what he perceived to be his mistreatment by the Japanese justice system. He spent more than four months in jail, over two stints, before the court ordered his release on bail in late April. But he particularly bristled on restrictions that the court placed on his contact with his wife, according to people familiar with the matter.
Then the court gave Ghosn what he took as a double insult for Christmas, according to people familiar with the matter. First it denied his request to have contact with his wife for the holidays. And at a Christmas Day hearing, he believed the court was dragging its feet on the trial, leading him to fear it might not start until 2021, the people said.
“He couldn’t see his wife. He couldn’t get dates for his trial,” one of the people said. “It was humiliation. It was moral torture.”
Behind the scenes, according to people familiar with the matter, Ghosn’s advisers had been studying several scenarios to spare him of a Japanese trial, where more than 99 percent of those indicted for a crime are convicted, according to official statistics. Lawyers and family members appealed to French leaders to intervene, for instance. They also looked at what would happen if he ended up in France, Brazil or the U.S., according to one person familiar with the matter.
It couldn’t be learned exactly how Ghosn was able to slip away from Japanese authorities in order to get on the private jet that spirited him out of the country. Ghosn had been living in a house in Tokyo. While he was permitted to leave the house, he had been required to stay in the country pending his trial.
Flight-tracking data details only one journey that matches Ghosn’s movements between Japan and Lebanon. A long-range Bombardier business jet left Kansai International Airport near Osaka—about a six-hour drive west from Tokyo—on Sunday at 11:10 p.m. The plane arrived Monday morning at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, according to flight-tracking data. A smaller jet left the airport for Beirut just over half an hour later, the data show.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Ghosn had to go through customs at Ataturk Airport before embarking on the second leg of his trip to Beirut. An airport official declined to comment. Turkish government officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on New Year’s Eve.
The first flight took an unusually long route, heading north so that it crossed only Russian airspace on the way to Turkey. It wasn’t immediately clear why the plane, if it were carrying Ghosn, would take such a route.
Ghosn is staying in Lebanon with his wife in a family house, which has a surveillance system, according to people familiar with the matter. Ghosn fears being snatched and returned to Japan, one of the people said.
A rose-colored mansion in an upscale neighborhood that Nissan had purchased and renovated for Ghosn’s use was being guarded Tuesday by a police car and armed officers, Ghosn, though, isn’t staying there, according to people familiar with the matter. A shopkeeper next to the house said that police weren’t usually stationed on the street, even on New Year’s Eve.
“We are here on a mission to guarantee law and order,” one of the officers said.