Facing trial in Japan, ex-Nissan boss Ghosn flies to Beirut

Facing trial in Japan, ex-Nissan boss Ghosn flies to Beirut
Facing trial in Japan, ex-Nissan boss Ghosn flies to Beirut

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn (left) and his wife Carole leave the office of his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka in Tokyo April 3, 2019. — AFP pic

BEIRUT, Dec 31 — Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, who was awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges, has flown to Beirut, the latest stunning twist in his rollercoaster journey from boardroom to detention centre.

The 65-year-old, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports, arrived in Beirut yesterday, a Lebanese security source told AFP, adding: “It’s unclear how he left Japan.”

The tycoon was preparing for a trial in Tokyo — expected to take place this spring — over multiple charges of financial malpractice that he denies.

Ghosn was on bail in Japan under strict conditions, including a ban on leaving Japan and on communicating with his wife, although the couple were last month allowed a brief conversation via videoconference.

He and his lawyers have repeatedly voiced fears over the impossibility of a fair trial in Japan and have called for the case to be thrown out, citing mis-steps by the prosecutors’ office.

“Carlos Ghosn is not looking to flee his responsibilities, but he’s fleeing the injustice of the Japanese system,” a source closely involved with the case told AFP, asking not to be identified.

Lebanese media reported Ghosn had flown by private plane from Turkey to Lebanon, where his parents were born and where he spent most of his childhood, after arriving there as a toddler.

Many Lebanese view Ghosn as a symbol of their country’s large diaspora, and a prime example of Lebanese entrepreneurial genius, so have been shocked by his arrest.

But in Tokyo, the unexpected turn of events will spark questions about how he could apparently have given authorities the slip.

His Japanese lawyers were seemingly caught unawares by Ghosn’s travel plans and declined to comment to reporters.

Public broadcaster NHK cited a foreign ministry official as saying: “He was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities.”

Government officials could not be reached immediately on a public holiday.

‘Conspiracy’

His sudden departure from Japan is nearly as dramatic as his arrest out of the blue on November 19, 2018 at a Tokyo airport.

Prosecutors stormed his private jet in scenes captured by a local paper, and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions far removed from his sometimes extravagant lifestyle.

He eventually won bail, striding out of the detention centre disguised in a workman’s uniform complete with mask and cap in an apparent bid to fool the world’s media camped outside.

Then one morning in April, he was rearrested on another set of charges just days before he was due to give a hotly anticipated news conference.

He released a video apparently pre-recorded in which he accused “backstabbing” Nissan executives of a “conspiracy”.

Later that month, he was released again on bail — this time leaving in a business suit — and he had been in Tokyo ever since preparing for his trial in “combative” mood, according to his lawyers.

He stands accused of two counts of under-reporting his salary to the tune of ¥9.23 billion (US$85 million) from 2010 to 2018, deferring some of his pay and failing to declare this to shareholders.

Prosecutors also allege he attempted to get Nissan to cover around ¥1.85 billion in personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis.

The fourth charge against him is that he allegedly transferred  millions from Nissan funds to a dealership in Oman, from which the executive supposedly skimmed off US$5 million for his personal use.

He has consistently denied all charges against him, saying they are a “plot” by Nissan executives to get rid of him because they feared he was moving the Japanese firm to a closer tie-up with Renault.

His lawyers have appealed for the case to be thrown out, claiming several procedural errors by the prosecution.

In the meantime, Ghosn has lost the business empire he was once lauded for creating. Sacked from Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, he resigned from Renault — the third firm in the uneasy car alliance he forged. — AFP

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