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Fugitive Carlos Ghosn clears family of helping him flee Japan for Lebanon

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Carlos Ghosn was awaiting trial in Tokyo
Carlos Ghosn was awaiting trial in Tokyo   -  
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Fugitive former car tycoon Carlos Ghosn says "he alone" planned his escape from Japan.

The ex-chairman of Nissan, who was facing trial in the country for alleged financial misconduct, fled to Beruit on New Year's Eve.

On Thursday, Lebanon confirmed it had received an international wanted notice from Interpol, calling for his provisional arrest.

But the notice only calls on law enforcement agencies to locate and provisionally detain a wanted fugitive. It is not the same as a request for extradition, on which Japan does not have a treaty agreement with Lebanon.

Later, as questions swirled around how Ghosn skipped bail to flee Japan via Turkey, he released a statement clearing his family of blame.

"Allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other relatives were involved in my departure from Japan are false," he said.

Ghosn said he acted alone and his family had played no part.

Turkey's probe into Ghosn escape

Ghosn arrived in Lebanon via Istanbul. An investigation found that 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.

Istanbul-based MNG Jet said on Friday, January 3 that 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.

On January 2, 2020, Turkish authorities had detained seven people as part of a probe into Ghosn's escape from Japan.

The detainees — four pilots, a cargo company manager and two airport workers — are suspected to have helped Ghosn with his escape plan, according to Turkey's DHA news agency.

Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP
Prosecutors arrives at former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn's residence for a raid in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via APç≤ì°óDé˜

Also on Thursday, Japanese prosecutors raided Ghosn's Tokyo home.

Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn's third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one.

Ghosn's great escape

It was not clear initially if he had reached a deal or if he had simply skipped bail of 1.5 billion yen (€12.3 million) and flouted an international travel ban.

“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, in flagrant disregard of Japan's legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold,'' the statement said.

He insisted he has "not fled justice" but has "escaped ... injustice and political persecution."

A source at the Lebanese presidency told AFP that Ghosn — who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports — entered the country with a French passport and Lebanese identity card.

It is believed that Ghosn had been allowed to retain a copy of his French passport while Japanese authorities held his three other passports to minimise the risk of him escaping.

The former businessman was arrested in November 2018 and was expected to face trial in April 2020.

He was charged with under-reporting his future pay package and of breach of trust.

Ghosn has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped-up charges to prevent a possible deeper merger between Nissan and alliance partner Renault.

Ricardo Karam, a television host and friend of Ghosn, told AP that Ghosn arrived in Lebanon early on Monday.

“He is home,'' Karam said, “It's a big adventure.”

AP
The building in Beirut where Ghosn is believed to be.APMaya Alleruzzo

Lebanon-based newspaper Al-Joumhouriya said Ghosn arrived in Beirut from Turkey aboard a private jet.

Ghosn was credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s, rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.

Read more: Who is Carlos Ghosn?

The Lebanese took special pride in the auto industry icon, who speaks fluent Arabic and visited regularly. Born in Brazil, where his Lebanese grandfather had sought his fortune, Ghosn grew up in Beirut, where he spent part of his childhood at a Jesuit school.

Before his fall from grace, Ghosn was also a celebrity in Japan, revered for his managerial acumen.

Japanese regulators recently recommended that Nissan be fined over disclosure documents dating from 2014 until 2017.

Nissan said it accepted the penalty. Its sales and profits have tumbled and its brand image is tarnished. It has acknowledged lapses in its governance and has promised to improve its transparency.

Another Nissan former executive, Greg Kelly, an American, was arrested at the same time as Ghosn and is awaiting trial. He has also said he is innocent.

The conviction rate in Japan exceeds 99% and winning an acquittal through a lengthy appeals process could take years. Rights activists in Japan and abroad say its judicial system does not presume innocence enough and relies heavily on long detentions that lead to false confessions.

The charges Ghosn faces carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

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