Flight records of Ghosn escape falsified to hide auto exec's travel, jet firm says

Former Nissan chairman sought to avoid 'rigged Japanese justice system'

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish airline company whose jets were used to fly former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn from Japan to Lebanon said an employee falsified records and that Ghosn's name did not appear on any documentation related to the flights.

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Ghosn earlier this week jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in a dramatic escape that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.

How he was able to flee Japan, avoiding the tight surveillance he was under while free on 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail, is still a mystery, though Lebanese authorities have said he entered the country legally on a French passport.

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Ghosn's daring escape spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey detained seven people Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country, and they were appearing in court Friday. The private DHA news agency reported that those detained were four pilots, a cargo company manager and two airport workers.

Also Friday, Istanbul-based MNG Jet said it had filed a criminal complaint in Turkey concerning the illegal use of its jet charter services.

It did not say who the complaint was against, but it said one company employee, who was under investigation by the Turkish authorities, admitted to falsifying records and "confirmed that he acted in his individual capacity" without MNG Jet's knowledge.

The company said it had leased two separate private jets: one private jet from Dubai to Osaka , Japan, and Osaka to Istanbul and another private jet from Istanbul to Beirut.

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn is driven through Tokyo after posting 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) in bail in March 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko. File)

"The two leases were seemingly not connected to each other. The name of Mr Ghosn did not appear in the official documentation of any of the flights," MNG Jet said in a statement. The statement did not say who the jets were leased to.

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On Thursday, Interpol issued a wanted notice for Ghosn. Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press in an interview that Lebanon “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan may be brought in for questioning. But he said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Ghosn over to Japan.

Shortly after the Interpol notice, Ghosn issued a statement — his second this week — seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape.

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“The allegations in the media that my wife, Carole, and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. I alone organized my departure. My family played no role,” he said.

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn't been seen in public since. In a statement Tuesday, he said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system.”

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His lawyer in France, Francois Zimeray, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV that he was in frequent contact with Ghosn since he arrived in Lebanon, and Ghosn appeared to be filled with “a fighting spirit." Ghosn was eager to start clearing his name at a news conference next week, Zimeray said.

Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country with close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.

Ghosn, who is charged in Japan with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault.