Former Nissan boss skips bail, flees Japan in Hollywood-style escape
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Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn skipped his $19.6 million bail and escaped Japan by hiding inside a double bass case on a private jet, the Sun newspaper reports.
Ghosn, 65, accused of financial misconduct, fled from Japan to the Middle East using a false passport.
Lebanese news channel MTV reports that a group of paramilitaries entered the home posing as musicians hired to perform at a dinner party and left with Ghosn hiding inside a box designed to hold a musical instrument.
The box is thought to have been a double bass case, typically about 190cm long.
The Brazilian-born executive spent more than 100 days in custody following his arrest in November 2018 on four charges of falsifying financial statements while boss of Nissan-Renault.
He had been under house arrest in Tokyo awaiting trial but managed to evade police surveillance.
He said he was escaping “injustice and political persecution” claiming the Japanese justice system was “rigged as guilt is presumed, discrimination rampant, and basic human rights are denied”.
Ghosn, who spent his childhood in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan, is believed to have arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul.
Lebanese officials confirmed he entered the country legally and said there was no reason to take action against him. One of his Japanese lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, has called his behaviour “inexcusable”.
The episode represents a dramatic fall for Ghosn, hailed for rescuing Nissan, which he led from near bankruptcy over two decades.
He was also chairman and chief executive of Nissan’s French partner Renault and more recently led the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance.
Ghosn disclosed his location in a statement through his representatives but did not confirm how he managed to get out of Japan. He promised to talk to reporters next week.
“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.
Ghosn’s lawyer denied all knowledge of the escape, saying he was stunned.
Ghosn was expected to face trial in April this year.
He posted 1.5 billion yen ($19.6 million) bail on two separate instances after he was arrested a second time on additional charges, and released again. Prosecutors fought his release, but a court granted him bail on condition that he be monitored and not meet with his wife, Carole, who is also of Lebanese origin. Recently, the court allowed them to speak by video.
Ghosn, who was charged 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 and alliance partner Renault.
“Maybe he thought he won’t get a fair trial,” said his lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, stressing that he continues to believe Ghosn is innocent.
“I can’t blame him for thinking that way.”
The charges Ghosn faces carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Hironaka said the lawyers were holding Ghosn’s three passports, yet Lebanon’s minister for presidential affairs, Selim Jreissati, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn entered legally at the airport with a French passport and Lebanese ID. France reacted with surprise and some confusion.
The French foreign ministry said in a statement that French authorities “have heard from the press about the arrival of Carlos Ghosn to Lebanon.” They “have not been informed of his departure from Japan and have no knowledge of the circumstances of his departure,” the statement said.
Hironaka said he last spoke with his client on Christmas Day and was never consulted about leaving for Lebanon. However, he said the circumstances of Ghosn’s arrest, the seizure of evidence and the strict bail conditions were unfair.
People in Lebanon take special pride in the auto industry icon, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s, and rescued the automaker from near-bankruptcy.
Ghosn speaks fluent Arabic and visited the country 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.
Another former Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, an American, was arrested at the same time as Ghosn and is awaiting trial. He has said he is innocent. Hiroto Saikawa, who replaced Ghosn as head of Nissan, announced his resignation in September after financial misconduct allegations surfaced against him related to his income. He has not been charged with any crime.
The conviction rate in Japan exceeds 99 per cent and winning an acquittal through a lengthy appeals process could take years. Rights activists in Japan and abroad say Japan’s judicial system does not presume innocence enough and relies on long detentions that lead to false confessions.