Fugitive Lebanese tycoon seeks haven in country gripped by turmoil

Activists see Ghosn’s return to Beirut as yet another manifestation of impunity by the super-rich.
Sunday 05/01/2020
Tycoon turned fugitive. Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves Tokyo’s Detention Centre, last April.  (AP)
Tycoon turned fugitive. Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves Tokyo’s Detention Centre, last April. (AP)

BEIRUT - Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who stunned the world by fleeing to Lebanon from Japan where he was held under tight house arrest pending trial on financial misconduct charges, could stand trial in Lebanon after an Interpol arrest warrant was issued for him.

The Interpol Red Notice, which calls on authorities to arrest a wanted person, was received by Lebanon’s internal security forces but had not yet been referred to the judiciary.

Ghosn, a Lebanese national who also holds Brazilian and French citizenships, is unlikely to be extradited to Japan, said lawyer Mohammad Farid Mattar.

“Usually when there is an international arrest warrant, the fugitive or the suspect is either extradited or arrested by the local authorities but Lebanon does not extradite its citizens to foreign states and there is no extradition treaty between Lebanon and Japan,” Mattar said.

It was not clear if Ghosn would be summoned for questioning over the warrant. Lebanese authorities said Ghosn entered the country legally using his French passport and Lebanese identification. He arrived in Beirut December 31 on a private jet via Istanbul.

“He could enter Lebanon because there was no international arrest warrant issued against him yet. However, he could have his passport confiscated now,” Mattar said. “Japan can always file a lawsuit against Ghosn in Lebanon, which means it would accept Lebanese jurisdiction. In that case, he could stand trial in Lebanese courts.”

The French-Lebanese vehicle mogul was charged on several counts of financial misconduct, which he has repeatedly denied. The circumstances of his escape from Japan remain unclear. He disclosed his arrival in Lebanon in a statement in which he said he was not escaping trial but “a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant and basic human rights are denied.”

Ghosn was reportedly distressed by the conditions of his house arrest granted on a $14 million bail on two separate releases. He was not allowed to speak to his wife and family and his access to internet communication was largely curtailed.

His lead Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was stunned that Ghosn had jumped bail and that lawyers held three passports belonging to him. Japanese public broadcaster NHK revealed that the Japanese authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while on bail.

In Lebanon people take special pride in auto-industry icon Ghosn, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s, and who rescued the company from near bankruptcy.

When he was arrested in November 2018, many dismissed charges brought against him as “a conspiracy” by Japanese firm Nissan. A public campaign was even launched in his defence under the slogan “We are all Carlos Ghosn.”

The mood has since changed and, weeks into an unprecedented wave of protests against corruption and nepotism in Lebanon, activists see his return to Beirut as yet another manifestation of impunity by the super-rich.

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