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Escape of former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn a ‘bolt from the blue,’ one of his lawyers says

Former Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn.
Former Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn.Keith Bedford/Bloomberg News

TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn, the charismatic and controversial former boss of the Nissan-Renault car alliance, said Tuesday that he had left Japan, where he was awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, ‘‘to escape injustice’’ and arrived in Lebanon in a daring escape that appeared to leave Japanese authorities and his attorneys mystified.

It was not clear how Ghosn, who is of Lebanese descent and holds Lebanese, French, and Brazilian citizenship, had departed Japan. The 65-year-old was released in April on record bail of about $14 million in Tokyo but was placed under close surveillance and ordered to surrender his passports.


‘‘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. ‘‘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.’’

One of Ghosn’s Japanese attorneys said they were still holding his Lebanese, French, and Brazilian passports, as required by the terms of his bail.

‘‘It was like a bolt from the blue. We are surprised and puzzled,’’ Junichiro Hironaka told reporters, in remarks carried by state broadcaster NHK. He added that he still believes his client to be innocent but called his escape ‘‘inexcusable.’’

A Lebanese security official told NHK that a person resembling Ghosn had entered Lebanon under a different name, arriving by private jet. But Selim Jreissati, Lebanon’s state minister for presidential affairs, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn had entered Lebanon legally through the airport with his French passport and his Lebanese ID.

Hironaka said that he last saw Ghosn on Christmas Day but that the former auto executive gave no hint of any plans to flee. Japan’s immigration authorities told local media they had no record of Ghosn leaving the country.


On Tuesday, a representative for Ghosn’s family declined to comment, as did a Nissan North America representative.

Ghosn’s treatment since his arrest in November 2018 has thrown an unflattering spotlight on Japan’s justice system and prompted concerns in boardrooms around the world. Sympathy was high among the general public in Lebanon, and its government had complained publicly about Ghosn’s humiliating treatment behind bars.

Ghosn, one of the world’s most successful auto executives, was accused of financial misconduct and aggravated breach of trust, including by underreporting his income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East.

His initial 23-day detention was extended to 108 days as prosecutors rearrested him several times while he was still behind bars, a common tactic used in Japan to extract confessions and widely criticized as amounting to ‘‘hostage justice.’’

He was released in March on $9 million bail, then rearrested in April just after announcing plans to hold a news conference before finally being granted a second bail for an additional $5 million under strict conditions, including that he not speak to his wife.

With conviction rates around 99 percent in Japan, and Ghosn facing a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, he clearly felt the odds were against him.

‘‘Maybe he thought he won’t get a fair trial,’’ his lawyer Hironaka said. ‘‘I can’t blame him for thinking that way.’’


Writing in The Washington Post in April, Carole Ghosn said her husband had been kept in solitary confinement, with the lights on around the clock, and subjected to interrogation at all hours of the night and day without access to his lawyers.

The case prompted questions about whether a Japanese executive would have faced the same treatment, and why Ghosn and US citizen Greg Kelly were the only Nissan board members arrested when the company’s Japanese executives should also have known about Ghosn’s compensation arrangements. Kelly remains in Japan awaiting trial.

Japan’s security regulators recently fined Nissan $22 million over inaccurate financial disclosures, and Ghosn’s successor, Hiroto Saikawa, resigned in September over allegations of financial misconduct but has not been charged with any crime. Meanwhile, sales and profits at the auto giant have crumbled.

Ghosn and his lawyers say the allegations were trumped up as part of a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials, and prosecutors to oust Ghosn and block his plans to force through a closer merger between the Japanese automaker and its alliance partner, Renault. Ghosn himself spoke out about ‘‘backstabbing’’ by his former colleagues.

Concerns also have been raised about Ghosn’s management.

In dismissing Ghosn in 2018, Nissan said its investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary to transferring $5 million of company funds to an account in which he had an interest.

Renault, initially supportive of its former boss, announced in April after an internal investigation that it had found evidence of ‘‘questionable and concealed practices and violations of the group’s ethical principles.’’ At the time, Renault said it would halt Ghosn’s pension and reserved the right to bring action against him in the courts.


Ghosn earned a reputation as one of the auto industry’s top executives after turning around the fortunes of Renault and Nissan and bringing the two companies together in a three-way alliance with Mitsubishi.

But his efforts to forge closer links between Renault and Nissan ran into opposition from within the Japanese company, and many specialists say that may have been a factor in his downfall.

His reputation for streamlining Renault’s operations won him the nickname ‘‘Le Cost Killer,’’ while his success in turning Nissan around from near bankruptcy earned him the moniker ‘‘Mr. Fix It.’’ His efforts made him popular in Japan, with blanket media coverage and even a manga comic produced about his life. However, his lavish lifestyle and relatively high pay were sources of controversy.