By jumping bail, fugitive ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn burns bridges with Japan

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn had been out on bail while awaiting trial on various financial misconduct allegations. PHOTO: AP

TOKYO (AP) - By jumping bail, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who had long insisted on his innocence, has now committed a clear crime and can never return to Japan without going to jail.

"So he now has burned his bridges with Japan," Mr Stephen Givens, a lawyer and expert on Japan's legal and corporate systems, said on Wednesday (Jan 1).

"This is going to end in basically a stalemate with him spending the rest of his life in Lebanon."

How exactly Ghosn fled surveillance in Japan and popped up in Lebanon, or who might have directed the dramatic escape, remains unclear.

The Tokyo District Court revoked his bail, Japanese media reports said, meaning the authorities would seize the 1.5 billion yen (S$18.5 million) Ghosn had posted on two separate instances to get out of detention.

He was first arrested in November 2018, released and then rearrested.

The court was closed for the New Year's holidays and could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ghosn had been out on bail while awaiting trial on various financial misconduct allegations. The trial was expected to start in April. The date had not been set.

How the Japanese authorities might investigate Ghosn's escape, and what action they might take on the apparent security lapses remains unclear.

Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origin and holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, disclosed his location in a statement through his representatives but did not say how he managed to flee Japan. He promised to talk to reporters next week.

He said he wanted to avoid "injustice and political persecution".

"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, in flagrant disregard of Japan's legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold," the statement said.

His lawyer Junichiro Hironaka denied all knowledge of the escape, saying he was stunned. He said he didn't expect Ghosn to return to Japan.

When asked if Ghosn had taken any of the documents being prepared for the trial, Hironaka acknowledged he hadn't checked but said he seriously doubted Ghosn would care about a trial he had taken such pains to avoid.

Japanese media reports said on Wednesday there were no official records of Ghosn's departure from the country, but a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey.

One report said he sneaked out from his Tokyo home hiding in a case for a musical instrument.

Lebanon's minister for presidential affairs, Mr Selim Jreissati, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn entered legally at the airport with a French passport and Lebanese ID.

France has reacted with surprise and confusion, denying any knowledge.

Speculation is rife that a foreign or Japanese government, or both, might have been involved, or maybe just looked the other way to allow the escape to rid the public of a potentially embarrassing trial.

With him missing, Ghosn's trial is suspended.

But a trial is still pending against Nissan as a company and Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive. Kelly, an American, has said he is innocent.

Kelly's allegations overlap with those charges against Ghosn related to the underreporting of Ghosn's future compensation. Those charges are less serious than the additional breach of trust accusations against Ghosn.

Ghosn has been charged with breach of trust in having Nissan shoulder his personal investment losses, and diverting payments in Saudi Arabia and Oman for personal gain.

He has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying the authorities trumped up the charges to prevent a fuller merger between Nissan and alliance partner Renault SA.

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