Carlos Ghosn once was a top CEO, headed an “automotive empire,” lead the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi partnership, and caused sales to flourish. But in November 2018, Carlos Ghosn was arrested and charged with financial crimes such as under-reporting income and using $5 million of Nissan money for personal use, including a party at the Palace of Versailles and trips to Rio de Janeiro carnivals.
Prosecutors arrested him twice, released him on bail both times, but required him to remain in Japan. Meanwhile, Ghosn’s wife traveled internationally to appeal to political leaders on behalf of her husband.
Given that 99% of people criminally charged in Japan are eventually proclaimed guilty, Mr. Ghosn fled from Japan to Lebanon on December 29, 2019. While Ghosn and the Japanese Justice Department have refused to comment on the flight, pieces of evidence have unraveled a somewhat of a spy mystery.
The media has narrated the following account: after traveling by train from Tokyo to Osaka, Ghosn hid in a box meant for musical equipment and took off just after 11 p.m. local time. Based on data from FlightAware, a flight tracking service, he arrived in Istanbul 12 hours later on a private jet, and flew to Lebanon. Security cameras at Istanbul airport spotted U.S. citizen Michael T. and Lebanese citizen George Antoine Z., who reportedly assisted Ghosn in the absconding. Sabah, an Istanbulite newspaper, reported that investigators examining the plane used for the Osaka-to-Istanbul flight found two large boxes onboard inscribed with “Penn Elcom,” a manufacturer of shipping cases.
Why to Lebanon? Ghosn is a Brazilian-born businessman, but he grew up in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. In recent years he had become a popular figure in Lebanon, as expressed by Lebanon’s government: “The Lebanese foreign ministry will stand by his side in this ordeal to ensure that he receives a fair trial.” Since Ghosn entered Lebanon “legally,” no action will be taken against him.
Since then, Ghosn has stated that his escape was the most difficult decision in his life and defended himself as fleeing “injustice,” “political persecution,” and Japan’s “rigged” justice system. He accuses Japan of unfair treatment including forbidding communication between he and his wife and raiding his house. Also eager to defend his family, he assures the media that his “family had no role whatsoever.” The escape has embarrassed Japanese officials who state that Ghosn was under strict surveillance.
Ghosn is willing to face trial in the three countries where he holds citizenship (Lebanon, Brazil, or France) but, Japan may not permit the request. Lebanon placed a travel ban on Ghosn and received a “red notice” or confirmation that Ghosn is wanted by Japanese police. There is no extradition treaty between Lebanon and Japan, and French authorities also said that they would not extradite Mr. Ghosn if he came to France.
What will this mean for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi partnership? Renault SA Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is optimistic: dismissing forecasts of collapse by stating that the remaining board is composed of functioning and responsible members who will help rebuild the future.