Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn left Japanese soil for Lebanon on Tuesday without a trace – and a legal expert tells FOX Business he’ll likely be able to stay in the western Asian country without repercussions.
Ghosn, who is of Lebanese heritage, was arrested in November 2018 on financial misconduct charges of under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust. He was out on bail and was expected to face trial in April 2020.
Given the absence of an extradition treaty between Japan and Lebanon, Ghosn is likely sitting pretty, explained Page Pate, an attorney who handles international extradition matters.
“He’s unlikely to have to go back to Japan – as long as he stays in Lebanon,” Pate told FOX Business on Tuesday. “He could be arrested if he tries to leave Lebanon [but] it’s highly unlikely the government in Lebanon will send him back.”
In Tuesday’s statement, Ghosn said he was not fleeing justice, but was escaping “injustice and political persecution” over the allegations made during his tenure with the automaker. He said he would begin communicating further with the media next week.
Lebanese TV station MTV reported Ghosn escaped Japan with the help of members of a band, who entered his home under the allegedly false notion that they would be playing music for him. After the appropriate amount of time had passed, the band left with their instruments – and Ghosn – in tow, having allegedly hidden him in "one of the boxes intended for the transfer of musical instruments," according to the report.
Ghosn holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, but all had been confiscated as part of the stringent conditions of release, his Tokyo-based attorney Junichiro Hironaka told reporters after the escape.
“Maybe he thought he won't get a fair trial,” Hironaka said, stressing that he continues to believe Ghosn is innocent. He said he had not spoken to his client since Dec. 25, but added: “I can't blame him for thinking that way.”
But Salim Jreissati, Lebanon's state minister for presidential affairs, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn entered the country legally through the airport with his French passport and his Lebanese ID.
Jreissati told the paper that in a meeting with Japan's deputy foreign minister, he presented a file to the Japanese authorities asking for Ghosn to be handed over to be tried in Lebanon according to international anti-corruption laws, of which Lebanon is a signatory. He added that since there was no official word from Japan and it was not yet clear how Ghosn came to Lebanon, the government there will take no formal stance.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese state security official told state NNA news Ghosn will not face legal repercussions, according to Reuters.
Japan has some options, however, if the country were so inclined, Pate explained.
“In the absence of a clear extradition treaty, they have to be a little more creative,” he said.
First, Japan could issue a criminal arrest warrant through Interpol, the international police organization.
“That means if he were to decide to fly to London,” Pate said, hypothetically, “he could be arrested as soon as he gets into the jurisdiction of the British government."
Japan could also make a diplomatic request to the Lebanese government, effectively asking state officials to turn Ghosn over for the purpose of diplomacy, Pate said, noting: “Lebanon is not bound to honor it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.