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Ex-Nissan chief flees Japan to Lebanon leaving officials ‘dumbfounded’

Once considered a hero in Japan for turning around global car giant Nissan, businessman Carlos Ghosn has fled to Lebanon escaping what he called 'injustice and political persecution'

December 31, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Once considered a hero in Japan for turning around global car giant Nissan, businessman Carlos Ghosn has fled to Lebanon escaping what he called “injustice and political persecution”.

Born in Brazil to parents of Lebanese descent and raised in Beirut, the former Nissan chairman was charged at the beginning of this year with financial misconduct and aggravated breach of trust.

In March, a Tokyo court made the surprise decision to allow his release, setting bail at one billion yen ($8.9 million). His strict bail conditions meant he was placed under daily surveillance by police and prosecutors as he awaited trial to defend himself against the charges of financial misconduct.

Serious questions are now being asked as to just how Ghosn managed to evade Japanese officials. The 65-year-old is said to have an estimated $120 million fortune and was one of the most powerful figures in the global car industry until his arrest in November 2018. He holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports.

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Many have been left “dumbfounded” including his lawyer who told reporters in Tokyo today that Ghosn’s legal team was still in possession of his passports. “I don’t even know if we can contact him. I don’t know how we will proceed beyond that,” Ghosn’s legal team said.

With Lebanon not having any extradition agreement with Japan, it’s unlikely to see Ghosn being dragged back to Japan. He insists though that he is not fleeing from justice.

In a statement confirming he had gone to Lebanon, Ghosn said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.”

“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.”

How he could have left Japan remains unclear. There was video surveillance of his home and he had restricted phone and computer usage.

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A number of theories about the extraordinary escape suggested that Ghosn evaded his police tail and used a small rural Japanese airport where his face was less well known. It’s thought that he may have left Japan by ferry and crossed to South Korea.

Another speculation is that he left Japan hidden in some sort of container. One Lebanese media outlet broached the idea that he may have escaped by hiding in a large musical instrument.

More believable accounts of his escape propose that Ghosn used one of his many passports and made the daring escape with the aid of significant level of organisational assistance at all stages.

Ghosn’s legal team also gave credence to this by admitting that his flight to Lebanon “came out of the blue” and that they were unaware of how their client managed to leave Japan. Their remarks that “a very large organisation must have acted to pull this off” suggested that a bigger force was at play in organising his escape.