Ex-Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn, wanted by Interpol, denies family helped him flee to Lebanon

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Interpol issued a wanted notice Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges, in a dramatic escape that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.

Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press in an interview that the Red Notice for the ex-automotive titan was received earlier in the day by the prosecution. Red Notices are requests to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a wanted fugitive.

Serhan said the Lebanese prosecution “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that Ghosn may be brought in for questioning, but also said Lebanon and Japan don’t have an extradition treaty, ruling out the possibility that Beirut would hand Ghosn over to Japan.

The Interpol notice is the latest twist in Ghosn’s daring escape, which spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey made several arrests Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country.

Ghosn skipped bail and fled before his trial on financial misconduct charges. He issued a statement Thursday that said his family didn’t play a role in his escape.

“There has been speculation in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan. All such speculation is inaccurate and false,” the statement read.

“I alone arranged for my departure. My family had no role whatsoever.”

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn’t been seen in public since.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ghosn said he left for Lebanon because he thought the Japanese judicial system was unjust, and he wanted to avoid “political persecution.” He said he would talk to reporters next week.

A Japanese court had granted him bail — despite prosecutors fighting against it — with conditions he be monitored and could not meet with his wife, who is currently in Lebanon, according to media reports. The court previously allowed them to speak by video calls.

Ghosn’s $14-million US bail, which he posted on two separate instances to get out of detention, is being revoked.

A hero in Lebanon

Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country. He has close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.

Even as he fell from grace internationally, politicians across the board mobilized in his defence after his arrest in Japan in November 2018, with some suggesting his detention may be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy. Lebanon’s foreign minister repeatedly called for his release.

Serhan said prosecutors will summon Ghosn and listen to him, and “at a later stage if there are any measures to be taken, then the precautionary measures will be taken.”

“We are a country of law and respect the law and … I can confirm that the Lebanese state will implement the law,” the justice minister said.

At the same time, Serhan said that Lebanon has not received an official extradition request from Japan, and he noted that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

“Mr. Ghosn arrived to Lebanon as any ordinary citizen.… Lebanese authorities have no security or judiciary charges against him. He entered the border like any other Lebanese using a legal passport,” he added.

Turkey detains 7 as part of investigation

Earlier Thursday, Turkish police detained seven people — including four pilots — in an investigation into how Ghosn transited through Istanbul en route to Lebanon after fleeing Japan, a police spokesperson told Reuters.

The spokesperson said the other detainees were two airport ground workers and one cargo worker and all seven were expected to give statements before a court on Thursday.

Media reports said Turkey’s Interior Ministry had begun an investigation into Ghosn’s transit.

It is unclear how Ghosn avoided the tight surveillance he was under in Japan and showed up in Lebanon. Ghosn’s lawyers in Japan said they had no knowledge of the escape, and they had all his passports. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship.

However, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Thursday that authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, shedding some light on how he managed his escape to Lebanon.

A plane carrying Ghosn arrived at 5:30 am local time Monday at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Turkish news website Hurriyet reported, adding that prosecutors ordered the arrests after widening their investigation.

Flight tracking data from that time suggests that Ghosn used two different planes to fly into Istanbul and then on to Lebanon.

Hurriyet, citing an interior ministry official, said Turkish border police were not notified about Ghosn’s arrival, and neither his entry nor exit were registered.

The businessman was smuggled out of Tokyo by a private security company days ago, the culmination of a plan that was crafted over three months, Reuters has reported.

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

Japanese prosecutors raid Tokyo home

Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Ghosn’s Tokyo home, but prosecutors and police did not immediately comment as government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year’s holidays.

Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn’s third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one.

Japanese prosecutors carry bags as they leave Ghosn’s Tokyo residence as part of a probe into his escape. (Jiji Press/AFP via Getty Images)

Ghosn, who was charged in Japan with underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA.

In Beirut’s affluent residential neighbourhood of Ashrafieh, several security guards stood outside Ghosn’s rose-coloured mansion Thursday along with about two dozen journalists. Since news of his arrival, journalists, including many from the Japanese media, have flocked outside the building, trying to capture any proof of his presence.

At one point, a Lebanese lawyer who said he worked for Nissan appeared, claiming the building belonged to the auto company, not to Ghosn.

One of Ghosn’s neighbours, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are “split as to whether they are with or against his return.”

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