Pedestrians pass by a huge screen showing a news program featuring former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn in Tokyo on January 9, 2020. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP

Japan may wield its significant voting power at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to prevent Lebanon from receiving a multi-billion dollar bailout, should Beirut continue to shelter former auto executive Carlos Ghosn, a Nissan lawyer has told the Arab News.

“Without handing over Carlos Ghosn, the IMF will not give Lebanon any money,” said Sakher Hachem, Nissan’s legal representative in Lebanon, in an interview with the Saudi newspaper.

On the other hand, should the Lebanese authorities agree to extradite Ghosn, the Japanese will support Lebanon’s IMF request, Hachem was quoted as saying.

The Nissan representative later sought to walk back his claims, prompting the Arab News on Tuesday to release the audio recording of the relevant part of the interview.

Lebanon is currently seeking US$10 billion from the IMF to stem a financial meltdown. The country’s leading political factions have coalesced around the idea that an IMF package is the only bailout Lebanon can hope to secure.

Japan’s voting share of 6.15% at the IMF is second only to the United States, which far outranks any country with 16.51%.

New embassy fugitive?

Ghosn, once revered in Japan for reviving automaker Nissan and forging a two-decade alliance with France’s Renault, and later Mitsubishi, is now considered a fugitive.

The former auto executive made a secret escape from house arrest in Tokyo in December 2019, fleeing via train, instrument case, and plane, to his ancestral homeland of Lebanon. Once safely in Beirut, Ghosn claimed he had fled out of fear he would not receive a fair trial.

Japanese authorities initially arrested Ghosn in November 2018 over allegations he misappropriated company funds. He has staunchly denied any wrongdoing.

Since his shock escape, Tokyo has maintained steady diplomatic pressure on Lebanon, with which it enjoys positive ties and has financially backed through the Syrian refugee crisis.

Japan’s Deputy Justice Minister Hiroyuki Yoshiie in March traveled to Beirut to hold talks with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm regarding his country’s request for extradition.

Faced with the risk of being given up by Lebanese authorities, Ghosn appears to be looking to his birthplace, Brazil, for aid.

The fallen auto titan is now in talks with the Brazilian embassy in Beirut for potential asylum, according to a Lebanese source, raising the possibility of a Julian Assange-like Ecuadorian embassy scenario.

Ghosn is also a citizen of France. But the French government, which holds 15% shares in Renault and has been working to restore trust with its Japanese partners, appears to have washed its hands of its former man in Tokyo.

The Japanese and Brazilian embassies in Lebanon could not be reached for comment by phone on Tuesday.

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Alison Tahmizian Meuse

Alison T Meuse is the Asia Times Middle East editor and correspondent.