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Ex-Nissan boss Ghosn in Lebanon, left Japan over ‘injustice’

by Ace Damon
Ex-Nissan boss Ghosn in Lebanon, left Japan over 'injustice'

TOKYO –
Former Nissan President Carlos Ghosn said on Tuesday of Lebanon that he was not running away from justice but left Japan to avoid "injustice and political persecution" due to allegations of financial misconduct during his tenure as the automaker. .

Ghosn was released on bail by a Tokyo court while awaiting trial, but was not allowed to travel abroad. He disclosed his location in a statement through his representatives that did not describe how he left Japan where he was under surveillance. He promised to talk to reporters next week.

"I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a fraudulent Japanese judicial 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 to which it is subject. bound. defend, "said the statement.

Japanese media quoted prosecutors speaking anonymously as saying they did not know how Ghosn had done.

Ghosn, of Lebanese origin and a French, Lebanese and Brazilian passport holder, was arrested in November 2018 and is due to face trial in April 2020.

Prosecutors fought his release, but a court granted him conditions to be monitored and he could not meet his wife, Carole, who is also of Lebanese origin. The court recently allowed them to speak by video call.

Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon. It is not clear what action the authorities can take.

Ghosn has repeatedly stated his innocence, saying authorities have rejected accusations to prevent a possible more complete merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault.

He was accused of underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust.

During his release on bail, Ghosn went daily to the office of his chief lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, to work on his case, except on weekends and holidays.

Hironaka told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he was surprised that Ghosn had bailed out and denied any involvement or knowledge of the escape. He said the lawyers had all three of Ghosn's passports and was intrigued by how he could have left the country.

The last time he talked to Ghosn was on Christmas Day, and he was never consulted about leaving for Lebanon, Hironaka told reporters outside his Tokyo law office.

He said lawyers still need to decide on their next lawsuit, as well as submit a required report to the judicial authorities. Your office has been closed for the New Year holidays in Japan.

"Maybe he thought he couldn't get a fair trial," said Hironaka, emphasizing that he still believes Ghosn is innocent. "I can't blame him for thinking that."

He considered the circumstances of Ghosn's arrest, seizure of evidence and strict bail conditions unfair.

In the first Lebanese official comment on Ghosn's arrival, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Selim Jreissati told An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn had entered Lebanon legally through the airport with his French passport and his Lebanese ID.

Jreissati told the newspaper that in a meeting with Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister, he presented a file to the Japanese authorities asking Ghosn to be handed over for trial in Lebanon under international anti-corruption laws, of which Lebanon is signatory. He added that since there was no official word from Japan and it was not yet clear how Ghosn arrived in Lebanon, the government will not take a formal stance.

Jreissati did not immediately respond to Associated Press calls.

Lebanese General Security, which is responsible for border and foreign crossings, said Ghosn had entered the country legally and there was no reason to take action against him.

Ghosn paid a bond of 1.5 billion yen ($ 14 million) in two separate releases. He had been arrested again on additional charges after a previous release.

Earlier, Ghosn's television host and friend Ricardo Karam told the Associated Press that Ghosn arrived in Lebanon on Monday morning.

"He is at home," Karam said in a message. "It's a great adventure."

Karam refused to elaborate.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouriya said Ghosn arrived in Beirut from Turkey aboard a private jet.

The French government reacted with surprise and confusion.

"Carlos Ghosn is not above the laws, whether French or Japanese," said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, junior finance minister. But she added that "he has French nationality and we owe him consular support, as do all French citizens."

Speaking to BFM-TV, she said, "I was surprised like you when I heard of this escape."

Ghosn was credited for leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan in the early 1990s, rescuing the automaker from near bankruptcy.

People in Lebanon were especially proud of the auto industry icon, who speaks fluent Arabic and regularly visits the country. Born in Brazil, where his Lebanese grandfather had sought his fortune, Ghosn grew up in Beirut, where he spent part of his childhood in a Jesuit school.

Prior to his fall in grace, Ghosn was also a celebrity in Japan, revered for his managerial acumen.

Nissan made no immediate comments on Tuesday. The Japanese subcompact automaker of March, Leaf electric car and luxury models Infiniti was also charged as a company in connection with Ghosn's alleged financial crimes.

Japanese securities regulators recently recommended that Nissan be fined 2.4 billion yen ($ 22 million) for disclosure documents from 2014 to 2017. Nissan said it accepted the penalty and corrected its documents in May.

The company's sales and profits have fallen and its brand image is tarnished. It recognized flaws in its governance and promised to improve its transparency.

Another former Nissan executive, Greg Kelly, an American, has been arrested at the same time as Ghosn and is awaiting trial. He said he's innocent.

Hiroto Saikawa, who replaced Ghosn as Nissan's boss, announced his resignation in September after allegations of financial misconduct have arisen against him on bad income. He was not charged with any crime.

The conviction rate in Japan is over 99% and getting acquitted for a long appeals process can take years. Human rights activists in Japan and abroad say Japan's judicial system does not presume enough innocence and relies heavily on long detentions that lead to false confessions.

The charges Ghosn faces have a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

He is accused of underreporting his post-retirement compensation and breach of trust by misleading Nissan money and allegedly having to bear his personal investment losses. The other allegations against him involve payments to a Saudi dealership, as well as funds paid to an Omani company that were allegedly diverted to entities run by Ghosn.

Ghosn said the compensation was never decided, that Nissan never suffered investment losses and that all payments were for legitimate business services.

Ghosn's case attracted intense media attention in Japan. When he was released into custody in March, the former executive usually seen in luxury dress wore a surgical mask and dressed as a construction worker to avoid media scrutiny under the advice of one of his lawyers. Japanese media still saw him and followed his car.

——

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam in Beirut and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.

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