Going, going Ghosn: Japan shocked by ex-Nissan chief’s New Year escape

Going, going Ghosn: Japan shocked by ex-Nissan chief’s New Year escape
Going, going Ghosn: Japan shocked by ex-Nissan chief’s New Year escape

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - TOKYO: The year ended with a bang in Japan, but not because of fireworks. It was the shock of disgraced Nissan president Carlos Ghosn fleeing the country in secret that left everyone, including his defense team, open-mouthed.

Daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun quoted Lebanese military sources as saying that the former car boss had hidden in a wooden box aboard a plane for his escape. 

Ghosn announced in a statement that he was in Lebanon, with a crowd gathering outside the country’s embassy in Tokyo’s ritzy Roppongi district. Reporters tossed aside their holiday plans to document the latest twist in a stunning corporate scandal. 

The businessman was awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges, accused of under-reporting his salary by tens of millions of US dollars, deferring some of his pay and failing to declare this to shareholders. 

Prosecutors also allege he attempted to get Nissan to cover millions more in personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis, and that he transferred money from Nissan funds to a dealership in Oman and skimmed sums for personal use.

Ghosn denies all the charges against him, and has railed at the Japanese justice system.

Reporters from wires, newspapers and TV networks got no reply to repeated rings of the
embassy intercom.

One man was seen leaving the building but only said “no comment” to the assembled media. 

A Japanese news website, iPage, explained why Ghosn had fled to Lebanon. The businessman was born in Brazil but grew up in Lebanon, where he is loved by many and a hugely popular figure. 

It also said that, after his arrest in Nov. 2018, signs were seen in Beirut proclaiming: “We Are All
Carlos Ghosn.”

Daily newspaper Mainichi Shimbun quoted a former immigration inspector who ruled out a normal departure from Japan or or getting a border control notification about Ghosn.

He said those on bail needed court permission to leave the country. “It is difficult to imagine whether the notification from the relevant organization was overlooked or the notification itself was missing,” he was reported as saying, adding that immigration control was required even in the case of private jet usage. 

“We have to check whether there are any mistakes in the procedures for confirming whether or not there is a person who should depart at the time of immigration control, and for cooperation between ministries and agencies.”

There was widespread shock at how Ghosn was able to leave the country at all, given that three of his passports were with his defense team, leading some to conclude that he had either left with a fake passport or a new one.

His lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, was quoted as saying: “I don’t know much more than the press. I’m also surprised and embarrassed by this unforgivable act.” He also confirmed that Ghosn’s flit was contrary to bail conditions.

The economic daily Nikkei said that Japan’s trial of the century had fizzled out now that Ghosn
had gone.

Japanese criminal law normally does not allow a defendant to be tried in absentia except in limited circumstances — but these do not apply to the Ghosn case.

Nikkei quoted former prosecutor Yoji Ochiai as saying that Ghosn should not have been granted bail in the first place, seeing as how he was denying all charges and did not have a base in Japan. “This was the court’s mistake,” he added.

People involved in the case had suggested that a trial could begin as soon as April 2020, but Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

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