BEIRUT/TOKYO • The former head of Nissan Motor and Renault, who was awaiting the first of two trials in Tokyo, somehow evaded almost round-the-clock manned and video surveillance, as well as heavy restrictions on his freedom of movement, to flee to Lebanon.
From there, Carlos Ghosn released an e-mail decrying the "injustice and political persecution" of the Japanese judicial system.
The 65-year-old faced charges of financial misconduct and raiding corporate resources for personal gain, allegations he denies.
Soon after he resurfaced, the Internet lit up with unconfirmed reports and theories of how Ghosn, now an international fugitive, pulled off an escape befitting a Hollywood thriller - one that will be very hard for the Japanese authorities to live down.
In one speculative account, which cited no sources, Lebanese television station MTV reported that Ghosn smuggled himself out of Japan in a large musical instrument box after a Christmas band visited his residence in Tokyo.
He was then shipped out of the country and later entered Lebanon from Turkey on a private plane.
Ghosn's getaway followed weeks of planning, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.
It said that a team of accomplices assembled to carry out his exfiltration, and his wife Carole played a major role in the operation.
Ghosn was taken from his court-monitored residence in Tokyo onto a private jet, bound for Turkey, from where he went to Lebanon, landing there early on Monday morning, the newspaper said.
A detailed report in French daily Le Monde, citing unidentified sources, similarly reported that Mrs Ghosn organised the escape with the help of her brothers and their contacts in Turkey, and that her husband entered Lebanon with an identity card.
He may have decided to flee because of new information that the Japanese authorities could have obtained from a Swiss bank and from offshore centres, including Dubai, the newspaper said.
Other famous execs fighting extradition
FINANCIER LOW TAEK JHO
The Malaysian businessman, better known as Jho Low, is on the run from a number of authorities. The alleged mastermind behind the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, in which former top Malaysian officials are alleged to have embezzled US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) from the state fund, is in hiding. Low has denied wrongdoing. Last October, he agreed to a deal with the US Department of Justice in which he gave up claims to assets worth some US$1 billion. The deal does not include an admission of guilt. Malaysian police said Low is being protected by an unidentified country, making it difficult to extradite him.
HUAWEI'S MENG WANZHOU
The chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on Dec 1, 2018, at the request of the US. She was charged with bank fraud and accused of misleading a bank about Huawei's business in Iran. She has been under house arrest since. Meng, 47, denies the charges and maintains she is innocent, while the US is requesting her extradition. Meng's legal team contested her extradition in Canadian court, arguing that the US is using it for economic and political gain. An extradition hearing will begin on Jan 20 in Vancouver.
TYCOON VIJAY MALLYA
He faces fraud charges resulting from the collapse of his defunct Kingfisher Airlines. The Indian authorities charged him with financial crimes and say he took out US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) in loans for Kingfisher from Indian banks, which he had no intention of repaying. Mallya, 64, has denied all wrongdoing and says his case is politically motivated. India is demanding Mallya's extradition from Britain, where he moved in 2016. A London court in 2018 ruled that Mallya should be extradited. But another court last July allowed him to appeal against the extradition and the case is pending.
Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported that Ghosn entered the country with a French passport. The former industry heavyweight has Lebanese, French and Brazilian citizenship, though all his passports had been taken from him.
Meanwhile, a report that Ghosn met Lebanese President Michel Aoun was denied by an official from the presidential office.
French newspaper Les Echos said Ghosn may have left Japan under a false identity, with a forged passport, after boarding a private plane from a smaller airport where he was less likely to be recognised.
Britain's Guardian newspaper said officials in Lebanon were instructed by political leaders to ignore arrival formalities for Ghosn at the Beirut airport, citing an unidentified senior figure in the country's ruling class.
The French Foreign Ministry said it did not know how Ghosn pulled off the caper.
Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said Ghosn entered the country legally, and it was unaware how he fled Japan and arrived in Beirut.
Japan's Asahi Shimbun suggested Ghosn may have flown out of Kansai Airport near Osaka, citing records from the Ministry of Transport that indicated a private jet left Japan for Istanbul on Sunday evening.
On social media, would-be sleuths also posted private-jet flight information on aircraft that left for Istanbul the same day that Ghosn may have left Japan.
Ghosn's vanishing act has trended on Twitter and inspired a fair amount of wordplay, as in "Ghosn With The Wind" and "Ghosn, Ghosn Gone".
Japan's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that it is looking into the matter and is unable to offer a comment.
Ghosn is expected to give a press conference from his new home in Lebanon after the holidays.
In the meantime, red-faced Japanese law enforcement and Customs officials have some explaining to do.