Did Carlos Ghosn flee Japan by hiding inside a music instrument case?
World / 1 January 2020, 2:13pm / JAMES SALMON ASSOCIATE CITY EDITOR
London - A disgraced former car industry titan was on Tuesday night suspected of hiding in a double bass case to escape house arrest in Japan before fleeing to Lebanon in a private jet.
In an astonishing plot twist worthy of a James Bond blockbuster, Carlos Ghosn, the former boss of Nissan and Renault, managed to flee from underneath the noses of Japanese authorities.
The 65-year-old, who was awaiting trial in Tokyo over £65million corruption charges, disappeared from his luxury apartment in the Japanese capital despite it being under surveillance.
Stringent conditions on his freedom, such as a £10million bail payment and handing in his three passports, seem to have made no difference as Mr Ghosn flew into Beirut unchallenged, claiming not to have escaped but to have fled ‘injustice and political persecution’.
Speculation emerged in the Lebanese media that the diminutive Mr Ghosn, thought to be around 5ft 7ins, was wheeled out of the property in a box for ‘a large musical instrument’, such as a double bass or drum.
A Gregorian music band were seen entering his apartment on Sunday, apparently to set up ahead of a New Year’s Eve performance. There was speculation others who entered posing as band members may have actually been members of a security firm which aided Mr Ghosn’s journey. Even his lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said he was ‘dumbfounded’ by the extraordinary turn of events, describing his client’s actions as ‘unforgivable’.
Mr Hironaka said his legal team still held Mr Ghosn’s three passports – as a French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizen – and last saw their client on Christmas Day.
‘If he actually left, then it can be presumed as violating his bail conditions,’ Mr Hironaka told Kyodo News. ‘His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan’s justice system.’
Stressing that he continues to believe his client is innocent, he added: ‘Maybe he thought he won’t get a fair trial. I can’t blame him for thinking that way.’
Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan, meaning Mr Ghosn is untouchable by Japanese authorities without co-operation by his native Lebanon.
But Lebanese broadcaster MTV reported the former car boss entered the country legally using a French passport and a Lebanese ID card. The foreign ministry confirmed his ‘legal’ entry at dawn on Monday. Mr Ghosn, who has an estimated fortune of £91million, is thought to have arrived in Beirut-Rafic Hariri airport by private jet in the early hours of Monday.
Local media in Lebanon, where Mr Ghosn’s parents were born and where he spent most of his childhood, said the flight had come from Japan via Turkey.
Last night Mr Ghosn was thought to be with wife Carole, 53, inside his £11million dusky pink mansion in one of Beirut’s most expensive neighbourhoods.
Private security guards and local police stood sentry to the building and a stream of blacked-out high-performance cars were seen coming and going yesterday.
‘He is in Lebanon in his house with his wife,’ a family friend told AFP. ‘He is very happy. He is free.’
Brazilian-born Mr Ghosn remains a hugely celebrated figure in Lebanon where he even appears on country’s postage stamps.
He was once even tipped as a future president, only to turn down an offer to run for office as he had ‘too many jobs’.
In a statement, issued through a top New York PR firm, Mr Ghosn said: ‘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.
‘I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.’
Japanese prosecutors boast a 99 per cent conviction rate, compared to British courts which convict around 80 per cent of defendants who come before them. The system relies heavily on police securing confessions from suspects who can be interrogated for eight hours a day without lawyers.
Ghosn’s sudden departure was nearly as dramatic as his arrest at a Tokyo airport on allegations he understated his pay by more than £61millon and siphoned off millions of pounds from Nissan money to pay for his lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of luxury homes in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam and Beirut. Prosecutors stormed his private jet and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions. 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.
Under his strict bail conditions – which was only granted in April after paying more than £10million – Mr Ghosn’s home was under 24-hour video surveillance.
He was not allowed to see his Lebanese wife without permission and was banned from leaving Japan.
Mr Ghosn’s disappearance is acutely embarrassing for Japanese authorities – as prosecutors had sought to deny Mr Ghosn’s bail requests on the basis that he posed a flight risk.
Mr Ghosn has fiercely denied any wrongdoing. Instead he has accused Nissan executives, prosecutors and officials of ‘plotting’ his downfall amid fears that he would force the carmaker into a full merger with Renault. While awaiting trial, he was sacked from Nissan and from Mitsubishi Motors, the third firm in the uneasy car alliance he forged, and resigned as CEO of Renault. Currently Renault – which is backed by the French government – has a 43 per cent stake in Nissan, while Nissan has a 15 per cent stake in Renault. A merger is deeply unpopular among officials at Nissan, which has outgrown Renault since their alliance was forged in 1999.
The pink mansion in Beirut is just one of the string of properties that prosecutors say were actually purchased by Nissan through a network of shell companies.
The Ghosn’s property empire also includes a vineyard in Lebanon and a luxury flat covering an entire floor of an apartment block in Rio’s most exclusive neighbourhood. Greg Kelly, an American former Nissan senior executive accused of conspiring with Mr Ghosn, still awaits trial in Japan on corruption charges.