Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has launched a case in a Dutch court. Credit: Fortune Magazine.

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has traveled to Lebanon from Japan, where he was out on bail awaiting trial after his arrest in 2018 over allegations of financial misconduct.

“I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan’s legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold,” Ghosn said in a statement released by his US public relations consultants.

“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week,” the statement concluded.

One Lebanese official told the AFP news agency that Ghosn “reached Beirut, but it’s unclear how he left Japan.”

While awaiting trial in Japan he had been under supposedly strict bail restrictions.

“We were completely caught by surprise,” Junichirio Hironaka, Ghosn’s main lawyer, told reporters in Tokyo. “I am dumbfounded.” The lawyer added that he was no longer in contact with Ghosn and did not know how to reach him, AFP reported.

Ghosn is facing four charges including funneling US$5 million of Nissan’s money to a car dealership he controlled and under-reporting his salary. In September he paid the US Securities Exchange Commission $1 million to settle illicit compensation claims.

Ghosn’s lawyers say he’s the victim of trumped-up charges rooted in a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to oust Ghosn to prevent a fuller merger with Nissan’s alliance partner, Renault SA of France. Such charges may have become embarrassing to Tokyo.

The Japanese government sometimes has preferred to release too-hot-to-handle foreign criminal suspects, such as Paul McCartney. The Beatle was let go in 1980, having served only nine days in jail after being caught smuggling drugs into the country.

Netizens immediately theorized that the fix was in within Japanese officialdom, perhaps a deal to look the other way while Ghosn left. The businessman holds French and Lebanese passports.

“This looks like a set-up,” Hal Foster, a former long-time Tokyo-based journalist, said on Facebook. “The case against Ghosn in Japan has become an embarrassment for Tokyo, so letting him slip out of the country would be a face-saving way for the Japanese to end the PR pushback.”

Foster and others noted that Japanese Foreign Minister Keisuke Suzuki visited Beirut earlier in December and met with both the president and foreign minister of Lebanon.

Public broadcaster NHK quoted an official of the Foreign Ministry as saying Ghosn “was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities.”

In case the Japanese do want him returned to custody, Ghosn may have felt safe exiling himself in Lebanon. As longtime Ward’s Automotive Tokyo correspondent and Ghosn watcher Roger Schreffler notes, Lebanon has a history of refusing to return people wanted by the Japanese authorities.

Jet from Turkey

French newspaper Les Echos relayed a report that Ghosn arrived in a private jet that flew to Lebanon from Turkey. This is unconfirmed.

A house known to belong to Ghosn in a Beirut neighborhood had security guards outside with two lights on Monday night, but no sign otherwise of anyone inside. The guards denied he was inside, although one said he was in Lebanon without saying how he knew that.

One of the auto industry’s biggest stars before his downfall, Ghosn is credited with leading Nissan from near-bankruptcy to lucrative growth.

Even as he fell from grace internationally, Ghosn was still treated as a hero in Lebanon, where many had long held hopes he would one day play a bigger role in politics, or help rescue its failing economy, the AP report said.

Lebanese politicians across the board mobilized in his defense after his arrest in Japan, with some suggesting his detention might indeed be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy.

The Lebanese took special pride in the auto industry icon, who speaks fluent Arabic and visited regularly. Born in Brazil, where his Lebanese grandfather had sought his fortune, Ghosn grew up in Beirut, where he spent part of his childhood at a Jesuit school, the AP report said.

His wife, Carole Nahas, is also of Lebanese heritage. In November, Ghosn was allowed to talk to his wife after an eight-month ban on such contact while he awaited trial.

A globetrotter who for years was a regular at events frequented by the rich and famous – including the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – Ghosn was released on bail in April under the condition that he live at a registered address and not leave Japan.

Ricardo Karam, a television host and friend of Ghosn who interviewed him several times, confirmed Ghosn arrived in Lebanon Monday morning.

“He is home,” Karam told the AP in a message. “It’s a big adventure.”

Representatives for Nissan, the Japanese prosecutors and the Lebanese embassies in Tokyo and Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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