TOKYO - Japan has slammed fallen auto industry superstar Carlos Ghosn's blatant escape from justice as "illegal" and "fraudulent", as a probe into how he pulled off the improbable stunt entered full throttle on Monday (Dec 6) after the prolonged New Year holiday.
Justice Minister Masako Mori told a news conference that Japan will tighten its border checks and review bail conditions - including making GPS location tracking mandatory - after he audaciously skipped town for Lebanon.
"Every country has their own judicial process, and for all of Ghosn's criticisms of Japan's system it is utterly regrettable that he has chosen to flee by fraudulent means," she said.
In doing so, the towering mastermind of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Motors motoring alliance has become an international fugitive. The 65-year-old faces financial misconduct charges in Japan, whose justice system he has attacked as "rigged" after he spent 129 days behind bars without having been found guilty.
He was later released on bail for 1.5 billion yen (S$18.7 million) under strict conditions that did not allow him to speak to his wife Carole without prior court approval. Still, his escape has vindicated Japanese prosecutors who had argued that he posed a flight risk.
Ghosn is also the subject of an ongoing probe in Paris, which is looking into 11 million euros (S$16.6 million) in questionable expenses at the auto alliance.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France Inter radio on Monday: "When you are an individual subject to laws, you don't escape justice. And Carlos Ghosn is an individual like any other. He should answer before the justice system."
More details are set to emerge on Wednesday when Ghosn gives a news conference in Beirut, scheduled for 3pm local time (9pm in Singapore). But the jigsaw of how he pulled off the brazen act is being pieced together, including accounts of how he was helped in his escape by a former US Green Beret.
On Monday, the Nippon Television Network cited investigative sources as saying that Japan's most recognisable criminal had, after walking out of his home in Tokyo's tony Azabu district near the Tokyo Tower around noon, boarded a shinkansen bullet train at Shinagawa station around 4.30pm.
He alighted at Shin-Osaka at about 7.30pm on Dec 29, and then took a taxi to a hotel near Kansai International Airport.
He was smuggled on board an illegally-chartered Turkish private jet, which took off at about 11pm, in a large black audio equipment case with breathing holes drilled at the bottom.
Customs officers had not X-rayed the case nor opened it up for checks, the Nikkei newspaper cited a source as saying. The Wall Street Journal separately reported that a global support team of 10 to 15 plotters had identified the airport in Osaka as a weak link, as large luggage on board private jets often apparently escape checks.
The flight could only have been chartered because of a rogue employee at Turkish private jet operator MNG Jet who had falsified passenger records. The employee has told Turkish prosecutors that he was forced to help in Ghosn's escape after threats were made to his wife and children.
Ghosn is regarded as a national hero in Beirut, but may yet face legal troubles there. A team of Lebanese lawyers have filed a request that Ghosn be charged for visiting Israel when he was Nissan chief.
Israel has been at war with Lebanon for more than 70 years. One of the lawyers, Mr Hassan Bazzi, told NHK that Ghosn - for all his riches, political connections and celebrity status - should not get preferential treatment and be treated like any others who have faced the music for visiting or interacting with an enemy state.
According to Lebanese law, he reportedly may face a jail term of up to 15 years on this charge if tried and found guilty.