Japan's probe into Ghosn's escape kicks into high gear

Carlos Ghosn, who has fled Japan, where he faces charges of financial misconduct, is also the subject of an ongoing probe in Paris, and may face legal troubles in Beirut for visiting Israel - with which Lebanon is at war - when he was Nissan chief.
Carlos Ghosn, who has fled Japan, where he faces charges of financial misconduct, is also the subject of an ongoing probe in Paris, and may face legal troubles in Beirut for visiting Israel - with which Lebanon is at war - when he was Nissan chief.

Japan has slammed fallen auto industry star 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 yesterday after a prolonged New Year holiday.

Justice Minister Masako Mori told a briefing that Japan will tighten border checks and review bail conditions - including making GPS location tracking mandatory - after Ghosn skipped town for Lebanon.

"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 mastermind of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Motors motoring alliance has become an international fugitive.

Ghosn, 65, 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 (S$16.6 million) in questionable expenses at the auto alliance.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire yesterday told France Inter radio: "When you are an individual subject to laws, you don't escape justice. And Carlos Ghosn... should answer before the justice system."

More details are set to emerge tomorrow when Ghosn gives a news conference in Beirut, scheduled for 3pm local time (9pm in Singapore).

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.

 
 
 
 

Yesterday, Nippon Television Network cited investigative sources as saying that Japan's most recognisable criminal, after walking out of his home in Tokyo's stylish and luxurious Azabu district near the Tokyo Tower around noon on Dec 29, boarded a shinkansen bullet train at Shinagawa station around 4.30pm.

He reportedly alighted at Shin-Osaka at about 7.30pm, then took a taxi to a hotel near Kansai International Airport.

He is said to have been 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 pieces of luggage on board private jets often apparently escape checks.

The flight could have been chartered only because of a rogue employee at Turkish private jet firm MNG Jet who had falsified passenger records. The employee has told Turkish prosecutors that he was forced to help 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. Lebanese lawyers have filed a request that Ghosn be charged over visiting Israel when he was Nissan chief.

Israel has been at war with Lebanon for more than 70 years.

One of the lawyers said Ghosn - for all his celebrity status - should be treated like others who have interacted with an enemy state.

Under Lebanese law, he could face jail of up to 15 years on this charge if tried and found guilty.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Japan's probe into Ghosn's escape kicks into high gear'. Print Edition | Subscribe