Indicted former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn has surfaced in Lebanon, despite being under strict bail conditions not to leave Japan, in a remarkable turn of events after more than a year of legal drama.
In a statement issued Dec. 30 after arriving in the country, Ghosn said he was not fleeing justice in Japan but rather escaping injustice and political persecution.
Ghosn had been awaiting trial in Tokyo for alleged financial misconduct during his time at the helm of the auto maker and faced years in prison if convicted.
"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," Ghosn said.
"I have not fled justice—I have escaped injustice and political persecution."
It is unclear exactly when and how Ghosn left Japan for Lebanon, where he is a citizen.
According to a senior Lebanese foreign ministry source, Ghosn entered Lebanon legally on a French passport and using his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures, Reuters reported. Asked if Ghosn used a French passport, the French foreign ministry press service said it had no immediate comment.
Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said it may be difficult for Japan to ask Lebanon to send the fallen auto titan back for trial because there is no extradition agreement between Japan and Lebanon.
The terms of Ghosn's bail in Japan kept him under tight surveillance by the Tokyo prosecutor's office and banned him from leaving the country.
Ghosn may have to forfeit $13.8 million in bail for decamping.
One of the lawyers representing Ghosn told Japanese public broadcaster NHK: "I don't know anything. We will check on this from now." Several prosecutors also told NHK that they were unaware of the developments and "trying to confirm the facts."
The Tokyo District Court told NHK that it had not changed the bail conditions banning Ghosn from international travel. According to Japanese government officials, there was also no record of Ghosn's departure in the database of Japan's Immigration Services Agency.
According to a senior Lebanese foreign ministry source, Ghosn entered Lebanon legally on a French passport and using his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures. Asked if Ghosn used a French passport, the French foreign ministry press service said it had no immediate comment.
His lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.
Hironaka, in comments broadcast live on NHK, said the first he had heard of Ghosn's departure was on the news this morning and that he was surprised. He also said it was "inexcusable behavior."
Yearlong legal drama
Ghosn was arrested just over a year ago in Tokyo on allegations of financial improprieties while chairman of Nissan Motor Co. He has been indicted on four counts in Japan.
The first two are charges of failing to disclose tens of millions of dollars in deferred compensation. The two other counts are breach of trust charges that accuse Ghosn of diverting company money for personal gain. Ghosn, who denies the entire slate of charges, faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.4 million if convicted on all four counts.
Ghosn's lawyers and his wife, Carole Ghosn, have expressed doubt that the former boss of the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi auto group would get a fair trial in Japan. Although an official trial date had not yet been set, the case wasn't expected to head to court until the spring of 2020.
Ghosn's attorney in Japan argues that prosecutors illegally conspired with Nissan executives and government officials to frame him and remove him from power in order to prevent a full merger of Nissan with French alliance partner Renault.
In the process, Ghosn's lawyers have said, prosecutors also have violated his rights by engaging in such activities as illegal evidence collection and denying his right to a speedy trial.
The Tokyo prosecutor's office has denied inappropriate handling of evidence.
Born in Brazil of Lebanese ancestry, Ghosn grew up in Beirut and has retained close ties to Lebanon.
At Ghosn's gated villa in the Achrafieh neighborhood of Beirut, a handful of police and private security personnel stood guard on Tuesday.
A man who identified himself only as his English neighbor walked by to leave a card, with the words "Carlos, welcome home!" written inside. It was not immediately clear if Ghosn was at the address.
"It's a good thing that at last he's out of being locked up for something which he may or may not—probably not—have done," the neighbor said.
Ghosn's wife Carole is now with him in Lebanon at a house with armed guards outside, the New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Another former Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, was arrested along with Ghosn last year. He remains in Japan facing trial on charges of aiding Ghosn's alleged financial crimes. Kelly has denied any wrongdoing and his wife, from the U.S., last year said he was framed.
In his statement, Ghosn said he would use his newfound freedom to tell more of his story.
"I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week," he said.