Nissan will still pursue legal action against former chairman Carlos Ghosn despite his “regrettable” escape from Japan to Lebanon.
- Carlos Ghosn absconded from Japan by boarding a private jet hidden inside a case for musical equipment
- The former Nissan chief faces charges of financial misconduct in Japan
- A warrant for his wife Carole’s arrest has been issued, with officials saying anyone caught helping a fugitive escape would face consequences
The Japanese automaker said in a statement that Mr Ghosn engaged in “serious misconduct” while leading the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance.
“The company will continue to take appropriate legal action to hold Ghosn accountable for the harm that his misconduct has caused to Nissan,” it said, without giving details.
Meanwhile, Tokyo prosecutors have also issued an arrest warrant for Mr Ghosn’s wife Carole on suspicion of perjury.
Details on the allegations against Ms Ghosn were not immediately available, but Japanese officials have said anyone caught helping a fugitive escape would face legal consequences.
Ms Ghosn was banned from meeting with her husband while he was out on bail because she was seen as someone who might help his escape.
Investigation into how escape happened
Japan’s chief government spokesman told reporters that the government had informed Lebanon that Mr Ghosn left the country illegally and it sought cooperation in finding out what happened.
Japanese news reports on Tuesday gave new details of the escape, saying he left his residence alone, met two men at a Tokyo hotel and then took a bullet train to Osaka before boarding a private jet hidden inside a case for musical equipment.
Prosecutors are investigating why the cargo was not inspected before it was loaded, the broadcaster NHK and financial newspaper Nikkei said, citing unnamed sources.
The jet used, made by Canada’s Bombardier, is designed to allow easy access between its passenger and cargo compartments.
The Nikkei report said dozens of people in various countries helped to plan his clandestine departure.
Japan and Lebanon do not have an extradition treaty.
Experts said it would be difficult to bring Mr Ghosn back to stand trial in Tokyo, while chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the situation had to be handled carefully.
The foreign ministry said the Japanese ambassador planned to meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun later on Tuesday (local time).
Mr Ghosn faces charges of financial misconduct. He managed to skip bail and leave the country despite heavy surveillance while he was staying at a home in Tokyo.
Nissan’s statement was the first word from the company since Mr Ghosn’s flight last week.
Ghosn maintains his innocence
The automaker and Japanese prosecutors allege Mr Ghosn misstated his future compensation and diverted company assets for personal gain. He says he is innocent.
Mr Ghosn has not appeared in public since arriving in Lebanon. He is expected to give his side of the story in a news conference planned for Wednesday in Beirut.
Earlier, he said the allegations against him were concocted by Nissan, Japanese authorities and others who wanted to block efforts toward a fuller merger between Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault SA.
Mr Ghosn said in a statement last week that he wanted to escape “injustice”.
Critics of the Japanese judicial system said his case exemplified its tendency to move too slowly and keep suspects in detention for too long.
Nissan said in its statement that an investigation was ongoing in France, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission had found some wrongdoing.
Mr Ghosn has not been charged in France or the US.
The scandal over Mr Ghosn’s case has tarnished Nissan’s image and created a leadership vacuum at a time when the automaker’s profits and sales are tumbling.
Mr Ghosn’s successor Hiroto Saikawa also resigned last year amid financial misconduct allegations related to questionable income.
“Nissan will continue to do the right thing by cooperating with judicial and regulatory authorities wherever necessary,” the Yokohama-based company said.
Although Mr Ghosn is unlikely to face trial in Japan, Greg Kelly, another Nissan former executive, is still facing charges of under-reporting Mr Ghosn’s future compensation.
Mr Kelly, an American, who is out on bail and maintains he is innocent, has not been charged with the breach of trust allegations Mr Ghosn is also facing.
Nissan has also been charged as a corporate entity. The company says it will not fight the charges and will pay the required fines.
Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has said he is in Lebanon after fleeing what he called a “rigged” justice system in Japan, raising questions about how one of the world’s most-recognised executives slipped away while on bail.
- Mr Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday
- It’s unclear how Mr Ghosn was able to leave Japan while on bail
- He has accused Japan’s legal system of denying basic human rights, which Japan denies
Mr Ghosn’s abrupt departure marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardised the alliance of Nissan and top shareholder Renault and cast a harsh light on Japan’s judicial system.
“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,” Mr Ghosn said in a brief statement.
“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.”
Tokyo officials have previously said the system is not inhumane and that Mr Ghosn, who is facing trial on financial misconduct charges he denies, has been treated like any other suspect.
It was unclear how Mr Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan, given that he had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports.
Lebanese broadcaster MTV cited an official source as saying that Mr Ghosn entered Lebanon using a French passport.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said they had no immediate comment on that report.
Mr Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday, according to Reuters sources.
However, immigration authorities had no record of Mr Ghosn leaving the country, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said.
A person resembling him entered Beirut international airport under a different name, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.
His lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.
Mr Hironaka, in comments broadcast live on NHK, said the first he had heard of Mr Ghosn’s departure was on the news this morning and that he was surprised.
He also said it was “inexcusable behaviour”.
‘We are all Carlos Ghosn’
Japan has extradition treaties with only the United States and South Korea, according to the justice ministry, meaning it could be difficult to force Mr Ghosn to return to stand trial.
While his arrest on financial misconduct charges last year ensured a dramatic fall from grace in Japan, he retains more popularity in Lebanon, where billboards saying “We are all Carlos Ghosn” were erected in his support and he was previously featured on a postage stamp.
Born in Brazil of Lebanese ancestry, Mr Ghosn grew up in Beirut and has retained close ties to Lebanon.
At Ghosn’s gated villa in the Achrafieh neighbourhood of Beirut, a handful of police and private security personnel stood guard on Tuesday (local time).
A man who identified himself only as his English neighbour walked by to leave a card, with the words “Carlos, welcome home!” written inside.
However, it is not confirmed whether he was at the property.
“It’s a good thing that at last he’s out of being locked up for something which he may or may not — probably not — have done,” said the neighbour.
A French minister said she was “very surprised” by news of his emergence in Lebanon.
A spokeswoman for the Lebanese embassy in Tokyo said, “we did not receive any information” on the matter.
Mr 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 has denied, including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East.
Nissan sacked him as chairman as internal investigations revealed misconduct including understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $US5 million ($7.1 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.
Mr Ghosn was initially released in March on a record $US9 million ($12 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.
Mr 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. Mr 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.
Mr 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.