Former Renault and Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has skipped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon. The businessman is facing graft charges which his lawyers dismiss as a conspiracy.
Disgraced businessman Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday he had escaped Japan and arrived in Lebanon, raising questions about how he fled months before trial.
Ghosn had been under "strict surveillance" by authorities in Japan and had surrendered his passports while on bail.
"I have not fled justice, I have escaped injustice and political persecution," the former Nissan chief said in a statement.
Ghosn's lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said he was dumbfounded by his client's sudden departure. He said he had not spoken with him since last Tuesday, and described his client's behavior as "inexcusable."
The former head of carmakers Renault and Nissan was due to face trial in 2020 on charges of financial misconduct in Japan.
The 65-year-old was previously lauded for reversing Nissan's fortunes, reaching a celebrity status in Japan and even appearing as a protagonist of a manga, a Japanese comic book. His fall from grace sent out shockwaves across Japan and the global car industry.
Corruption, coup, conspiracy
Japanese authorities arrested Ghosn on charges of financial misconduct in November 2018. Prosecutors believe Ghosn syphoned off millions of Nissan's funds for his own use and deceived shareholders about the size of his salary while serving as the company CEO.
The executive has rejected any wrongdoing. He claims to have been the victim of a boardroom coup and has accused some of his Nissan colleagues of "backstabbing" him in order to avert a closer alliance between the Japanese company and Renault. His lawyers have sought to dismiss all charges, describing them as a result of a conspiracy between Nissan executives, government officials and prosecutors.
Ghosn was released from jail on a 1 billion yen (€8.2 million/$9.2 million) bail in April. A Tokyo court said his movement and communications were closely monitored to prevent escape.
Hero in Lebanon
After landing in Lebanon, Ghosn said he would not be "held hostage by the rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed."
Ghosn was born in Brazil to a family with Lebanese roots. He grew up in Beirut and speaks fluent Arabic. He holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports, however his lawyer said all of his passports were being held by legal representatives and he could absolutely not have used any of them.
Lebanese television network MTV reported that Ghosan entered Lebanon using a French passport, citing official sources.
France's junior economy minister, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, said earlier on Tuesday that nobody is above the law but, as a French citizen, Ghosn would be eligible for French consular support.
Many Lebanese politicians spoke out in favor of Ghosn after his arrest. The businessman remains popular in the Middle Eastern nation, where some hope to see him run for a government post.
kw,dj/cw (AFP, Reuters, AP)