Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Japanese officials silent on Carlos Ghosn escape as prosecutors raid Tokyo home

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Ministry have not commented since former Nissan chairman escaped to Lebanon

Officials from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office carry bags after raiding the Tokyo residence of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn. Kyodo via Reuters  
Officials from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office carry bags after raiding the Tokyo residence of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn. Kyodo via Reuters  

Japanese officials remain silent days after former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn avoided trial by fleeing to Lebanon this week.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remained on leave during Japan’s most important holiday week and his office and the Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Lebanese judicial sources told Reuters on Thursday that police had received an Interpol arrest warrant for Mr Ghosn but it was unclear if they would comply.

The red notice was received by Lebanon's Internal Security Forces and has yet to be referred to the judiciary, the source said.

Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Mr Ghosn’s Tokyo home after he skipped bail and fled to Lebanon before his trial on financial misconduct charges.

Tokyo prosecutors and police did not immediately comment. Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Mr Ghosn’s third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched them all.

Government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year’s holidays.

It is unclear how Mr Ghosn, 65, avoided the tight surveillance he was under in Japan and showed up in Lebanon.

He said on Tuesday that 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. Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.

While a senior official told Bloomberg that Tokyo was set to negotiate with Lebanon to get him to return for trial, it is unclear what influence Tokyo might have with Beirut.

Clamping down on trade, as Mr Abe did in a recent dispute with South Korea, would not be effective. Japan accounted for 1.5 per cent of Lebanon’s trade in 2018 and most of that was imports.

While Japan has provided Lebanon with aid in the past, the Foreign Ministry’s website did not list any official development assistance given since March 2018.

There was no Japanese direct investment in Lebanon and only about 100 Japanese citizens live in the country, compared with about 200 Lebanese in Japan, the ministry’s website said.

Japan’s only hope might be to enlist help from other Middle East countries with which it has closer ties, said Kazuo Takahashi, an emeritus professor at the Open University.

“Japan gives significant aid to Syria and Syria has leverage over Lebanon,” Mr Takahashi said.

Japan might ask the Syrians to pressure Lebanon into giving up Mr Ghosn, he said, but added he though the plan would not work.

Lebanon has said Mr Ghosn entered the country legally, and there was no reason to take action against him.

The Lebanese Minister for Presidential affairs, Selim Jreissati, told the An Nahar newspaper Mr Ghosn entered legally at the airport, with a French passport and Lebanese ID.

Mr Ghosn’s lawyers in Japan said they had no knowledge of the escape and that they had all his passports. Mr Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV, without identifying sources, reported on Thursday that Mr Ghosn had two French passports.

Sources close to Mr Ghosn told Reuters that the decision to flee came after he learnt at a recent court hearing that one of his two trials in Japan would be delayed until April 2021.

No firm date has been set for either trial but at least one was widely expected to start in April 2020.

"They said they needed another whole year to prepare for it," the source said. "He was distressed about not being able to see or speak to his wife."

Under the terms of his bail, Mr Ghosn was stopped from communicating with his wife Carole, and had his use of the internet and other communications restricted while confined to his house in Tokyo.

A request to see or speak to his wife over Christmas was denied, the sources said.

Earlier Japanese reports said there were no official records in Japan of Mr Ghosn’s departure, but a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey.

The Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said Thursday that authorities had detained seven people as part of an investigation into how Mr Ghosn fled to Lebanon through Istanbul.

The private DHA news agency reported that those detained are four pilots, a cargo company manager and two airport workers.

The Hurriyet newspaper said the plane carrying Mr Ghosn landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at 5.30am on December 29.

Mr Ghosn was not registered on landing and was smuggled onboard another plane that left for Lebanon, the paper reported.

Mr Ghosn, who was charged in Japan with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence.

He said authorities falsified charges to prevent a more complete merger between Nissan and alliance partner Renault.

The ¥1.5 billion (Dh50.7 million) bail Mr Ghosn posted on two separate instances to get out of detention was being revoked.

Updated: January 3, 2020 03:14 AM

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