PARIS/TOKYO • Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn confirmed that he had fled to Lebanon, saying he would not be held hostage by a rigged justice system, and raising questions about how one of the world's most-recognised executives managed to escape from Japan months before his trial.
Ghosn's abrupt departure from the country marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardised the alliance of Nissan Motor and top shareholder Renault, and cast a harsh light on Japan's judicial system.
"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," Ghosn, 65, said in a brief statement yesterday.
"I have not fled justice - I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to, starting next week."
Ghosn has Brazilian, French and Lebanese passports, with all three confiscated as part of his bail con-ditions. One of his attorneys, Mr Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters that the lawyers still have the passports in their possession.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK cited an anonymous source as saying that the Immigration Services Agency had no record of a Carlos Ghosn leaving the country, and the authorities were reviewing whether he left using another name.
NHK quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying: "He was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities."
"If this development is true, it would be a matter between the legal authorities of the two countries," the official added.
A person resembling Ghosn entered Beirut's international airport under a different name after flying in on board a private jet, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.
Bail conditions set for Ghosn
Conditions imposed on Carlos Ghosn as part of the US$9 million (S$12.1 million) bail that freed him from jail, according to a member of his legal team early last year.
•Must reside in Tokyo.
•Cannot travel abroad; must surrender passport to his lawyer.
•Needs court permission to go on a trip of more than two nights.
•Must install surveillance cameras at the entrances of his residence.
•Prohibited from accessing the Internet and using e-mail.
•Can use only a personal computer at his lawyer's office that is not connected to the Internet.
•Banned from communicating with parties involved in the case.
•Needs court's permission to attend a Nissan board meeting.
•Banned from contacting Nissan managers.
While Ghosn's arrest on financial misconduct charges last year ensured his dramatic fall from grace in Japan, he retains more popularity in Lebanon, where billboards saying "We are all Carlos Ghosn" were erected in his support. At one time, he was featured on a postage stamp.
Although born in Brazil, Ghosn is of Lebanese ancestry and grew up in Beirut. He has retained close ties to the country.
Ghosn was arrested at a Tokyo airport shortly after his private jet touched down on Nov 19, 2018. He faces four charges - which he denies - including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East. Nissan sacked him as chairman, saying internal investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary while he was its chief executive to transferring US$5 million (S$6.7 million) of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.
The case cast a harsh light on Japan's criminal justice system, which allows suspects to be detained for long periods and prohibits defence lawyers from being present during interrogations that can last eight hours a day.
Tokyo officials say the system is not inhumane and that Ghosn had been treated like any other suspect. He was released from prison in March on US$9 million bail, among the highest paid in Japan.
Citing an associate of Ghosn, the Financial Times newspaper said the former executive landed at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport late on Sunday.
He travelled to Lebanon via Turkey, arriving on Monday, The Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Ghosn has said he is the victim of a boardroom coup, accusing former Nissan colleagues of back-stabbing, and describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing closer ties between the Japanese automaker and its biggest shareholder Renault, of which Ghosn was also chairman.
His lawyers have asked the court to dismiss all charges, accusing prosecutors of colluding with government officials and Nissan executives to oust him in order to block any takeover by Renault.
Ghosn began his career in 1978 at tyre maker Michelin.
In 1996, he moved to Renault, where he oversaw a turnaround that won him the nickname "Le Cost Killer".
After Renault sealed an alliance with Nissan in 1999, Ghosn used similar methods to revive the ailing Japanese brand.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE