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Ex-Nissan chief made escape to Beirut aboard charter flights

by Ace Damon
Ex-Nissan chief made escape to Beirut aboard charter flights

ANKARA, TURKEY –
ANKARA, Turkey – Charter flights that took former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn from Japan to Istanbul and from there to Beirut – a possible escape with the help of an airline employee who falsified records. Security camera footage shows that he simply left home before fleeing the country.

On Friday, details emerged of the bizarre path to freedom that allowed the former Nissan boss to post a $ 14 million bail, apparently under the nose of the Japanese authorities, and to avoid accusations of financial misconduct that could lead to a imprisonment of up to 15 years.

The unlikely weekend escape confused and embarrassed the Japanese authorities, even sparking speculation that Ghosn was taken into a 24-hour surveillance home of his musical instrument case.

But on Friday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV quoted investigative sources as saying security footage showed he simply left home alone around noon on Sunday. Details also emerged about the path the auto industry executive took to Lebanon, where he grew up and is considered a national hero.

Turkish airline MNG Jet said two of its planes were illegally used on the Ghosn flight, first flying from Osaka, Japan, to Istanbul, and then to Beirut, where it arrived Monday and has not been seen since So.

He said a company employee admitted falsifying flight records so that Ghosn's name would not appear on them, adding that he acted "in his individual capacity" without the knowledge of MNG Jet.

The company announced that it had started an investigation after learning from the media that the planes were for Ghosn and not for officially declared passengers.

"The two leases were apparently not connected. Ghosn's name did not appear on the official documentation of either flight," the airline said in a statement. He did not say to whom the jets were rented or identified the official who helped escape from Ghosn.

Lebanese authorities said Ghosn legally entered the country with a French passport, although he was required to surrender all three passports to his lawyers on bail. He also has Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship.

Interpol issued a wanted notice on Thursday to Ghosn, but Japan has no extradition treaty with Lebanon and it seemed unlikely that it would be handed over.

The plane carrying Ghosn landed at Istanbul Ataturk airport, which is closed for commercial flights and used only for cargo and private flights, the Interior Ministry said. "There was a transfer in the cargo section" of the airport, said spokesman Ismail Catakli. "That way Turkey was used as a transit point."

A cargo company employee was on board the flight to Beirut and immediately returned to Istanbul aboard the same jet, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said. The official was one of seven people detained by the Turkish authorities investigating how Ghosn passed through Turkey. Two were released on Friday while the other five were arrested, state news agency Anadolu said.

Lebanon's Justice Minister Albert Serhan told the Associated Press in an interview that Lebanon "will fulfill its obligations," suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan could be brought for questioning. But he added that Ghosn entered the country with a legal passport and seemed to doubt whether Lebanon could surrender Ghosn to Japan.

On Thursday, Ghosn issued a statement – the second this week – seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape.

"The allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played an important role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. Only I organized my departure. My family had no role," he said.

Ghosn was due to be tried in Japan in April. In a statement issued on Tuesday, he said he fled to avoid "political persecution" by a "fraudulent Japanese judicial system." He promised to talk to reporters next week.

His lawyer in France, Francois Zimeray, told NHK that he had been in frequent contact with Ghosn since arriving in Lebanon, and Ghosn seemed to be filled with "a fighting spirit." Ghosn was looking forward to starting clearing his name at a news conference next week, Zimeray said.

Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, has close ties with senior politicians and corporate stakes in several companies in Lebanon. People are especially proud of the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan in the early 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near bankruptcy.

Ghosn, accused in Japan of underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities have rejected accusations to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault.

Kageyama reported in Tokyo. Associated Press journalists John Leicester in Paris and Bassem Mroue, AJ Naddaff and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

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