Ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has fled Japan for Lebanon


FILE – In this May 12, 2016, file photo, then Nissan Motor Co. President and CEO Carlos Ghosn arrives for a joint press conference with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in Yokohama, near Tokyo. At left is Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa. Japan’s court has denied the prosecutor’s request to extend detention of ex-Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

The embattled former auto titan Carlos Ghosn has left Japan for Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged Japanese justice system.”

Ghosn’s sudden departure from the country where he was awaiting a highly publicized criminal trial marks a dramatic twist in a yearlong saga that resulted in his ouster as chairman of Nissan and chairman and CEO of its alliance partner Renault.

“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,” he said in a statement, which was released on his behalf by a public relations firm.

It is not clear how Ghosn — who holds both French and Lebanese citizenship — was able to leave Japan. The Wall Street Journal, which reported his departure earlier, quoted an anonymous source as saying that Ghosn was “tired of being an industrial political hostage.”

Ghosn faces a litany of criminal charges in Japan, including allegations that he understated his income for years and funneled $5 million of Nissan’s money to a car dealership he controlled. He has repeatedly denied the charges against him and has claimed that his ouster and arrest were part of a conspiratorial plot to remove him from the global alliance he built.

He said in his Tuesday statement that he has “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,” he added.

An ongoing saga

Ghosn was initially detained in November 2018 and spent 108 days in a Tokyo jail cell before being released on bail in March. He returned to jail for a few weeks after being arrested again in April.

Ghosn was released on bail again that month. Prosecutors had tried to reverse the decision, but their appeal was rejected by the court.

As a condition of his bail, Ghosn was required to stay in Japan. His wife Carole Ghosn — who has traveled the world appealing to world leaders on behalf of her husband — has also said they were prohibited from talking to each other.

“To say that my husband’s bail conditions are ‘cruel and unusual’ would be an understatement,” she said in August.

Ghosn did not explain in his statement Tuesday how he was able to reach Lebanon. CNN Business has reached out to Japan’s justice ministry, the Tokyo prosecutor’s office and the city’s district court, but has not received any responses. The government, however, is closed for the week for the New Year holiday.

While Ghosn was born in Brazil, the former auto executive grew up in Beirut. In recent years he had become a highly respected celebrity in Lebanon, and even began investing in business there.

After Ghosn’s arrest last year, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said that he represented “one of Lebanon’s success stories abroad.”

“The Lebanese foreign ministry will stand by his side in this ordeal to ensure that he receives a fair trial,” the ministry said at the time.

News of Ghosn’s escape from Japan broke overnight in Lebanon, and CNN Business has not yet been able to reach Lebanese officials for comment during normal business hours.

An automotive alliance

Ghosn’s status as a titan of the auto industry was legendary. He lead successful turnarounds at Renault and Nissan, and was the architect of the alliance between those two carmakers and Mitsubishi Motors. Together, they produced one out of every nine cars sold worldwide as of last year.

Cracks began appearing in that alliance after Ghosn’s arrest in November 2018. While he was immediately stripped of his chairmanship at Nissan and Mitsubishi, Renault resisted calls to follow suit, saying it didn’t have enough information. By January, though, the French government had abandoned its support for Ghosn, and he soon resigned from his role there.

Ghosn claimed that his downfall was brought about by Nissan executives who opposed his plans to deepen the Japanese company’s integration with Renault.

Analysts have repeatedly speculated that Nissan executives were uncomfortable about the possibility of Renault and Ghosn seeking full control of the Japanese company.

Nissan has given a different version of events, saying that it began cooperating with Japanese prosecutors after a whistleblower helped it uncover serious financial misconduct by Ghosn.

By Yoko Wakatsuki, Jill Disis and Alexis Benveniste, CNN Business

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