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Ghosn hid in a musical instrument box on a private jet: Report

AFP, Reuters/Beirut/Tokyo
Filed on December 31, 2019
Ghosn, Lebanon

Ghosn's sudden departure from Japan is nearly as dramatic as was his arrest out of the blue at Tokyo airport.

Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said on Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape injustice in Japan, where he was on bail awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges.

The auto tycoon's abrupt departure was the latest twist in a rollercoaster journey that saw him fall from boardroom to detention centre and it sparked questions over an embarrassing security lapse in Japan.

It was not clear how he managed to leave Japan, as his bail conditions barred him from exiting the country he had been held in since his sudden arrest in November 2018 sent shockwaves through the business world.

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.

Lebanon's MTV television reported that Ghosn was smuggled to the airport in Japan in a musical instrument case belonging to a band who had been booked to perform on New Year's Eve.

But a member of his entourage denied the report.

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

Ghosn's sudden departure from Japan is nearly as dramatic as was his arrest out of the blue at a Tokyo airport.

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

His Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was "dumbfounded" by the news and confirmed that lawyers were still in possession of Ghosn's passports.

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."

Taichiro Motoe, a lawmaker from Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), said the news had come as a "shock."

"There have been so many flight cases in 2019 by criminally accused individuals on bail and by those facing imprisonment after their crimes have been confirmed," said Motoe, calling for "swift and effective" improvements.

A senior official at France's finance ministry said she was "very surprised" by Ghosn's flight.

"As Mr Ghosn is a citizen, like anyone else he is not above the law," the state secretary at France's economy and finance ministry, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, told France Inter radio.

"We need to understand exactly what happened."

Flight risk
 
Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018, shortly after his private jet touched down at the airport. He faces four charges - which he denies - including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East.

Nissan sacked him as chairman saying internal investigations revealed misconduct including understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $5 million of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.

The case put a spotlight on Japan's criminal justice system, which allows suspects to be detained for long periods and prohibits defence lawyers from being present during interrogations that can last eight hours a day.

Ghosn was initially released in March on a record $9 million bail only to be arrested on related charges weeks later and then released on bail again at the end of April.
 
His movement and communications have been monitored and restricted to prevent his fleeing the country and tampering with evidence, the Tokyo District court previously said.
 
The terms of his bail have also been striking by Western standards. He has been prevented from communicating with his wife, Carole, and had his use of the internet and other communications curtailed.
 
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.
 
House arrest

Ghosn did not believe he would get a fair trial in Japan and was "tired of being an industrial political hostage", one person told The Wall Street Journal.
 
A person familiar with Nissan's thinking told Reuters: "I think he gave up fighting the prosecutors in court."
 
The trial was widely expected to start in April. Ghosn's Japanese lawyers have fought, so far unsuccessfully, to get access to 6,000 pieces of evidence collected from Nissan, which they say is crucial to a fair trial.
 
Ghosn has said he is the victim of a boardroom coup, accusing former Nissan colleagues of "backstabbing" and describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing closer ties between the Japanese automaker and its biggest shareholder Renault, of which Ghosn was also chairman.
 
His lawyers have asked the court to dismiss all charges, accusing prosecutors of colluding with government officials and Nissan executives to oust him to block any takeover by Renault.
 
Ghosn began his career in 1978 at tyre maker Michelin . In 1996, he moved to Renault where he oversaw a turnaround that won him the nickname "Le Cost Killer."
 
After Renault sealed an alliance with Nissan in 1999, Ghosn used similar methods to revive the ailing brand, leading to business super-star status in Japan, blanket media coverage and even a manga comic book on his life.


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