He was once a titan of the car industry who held hero status in Japan. He then became one of the country’s most well-known criminal suspects. Now he’s an international fugitive.
Carlos Ghosn, the multi-millionaire former boss of Nissan, spent months preparing to stand trial on financial misconduct charges. At least, that was what the Japanese authorities were led to believe.
He posted 1bn yen (£6.8m; $8.9m) in bail in April. He was monitored by a 24-hour camera installed outside his house. His use of technology was heavily restricted and he was banned from travelling abroad.
Then, in a move that left Japan red-faced and his own legal team baffled, he appeared in Lebanon on New Year’s Eve. “I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” he declared in a statement.
“We were completely caught by surprise. I am dumbfounded,” his lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, told a crowd of reporters in Tokyo shortly after learning of Mr Ghosn’s flight. “I want to ask him, ‘How could you do this to us?'”
Another pressing question is: how did he do it at all?
A musical escape?
One Lebanese TV channel – MTV – reported that Mr Ghosn had fled his court-approved residence in Tokyo with the assistance of a paramilitary group who were disguised amongst a band of musicians.
It said the band had performed at his house and, shortly after they had finished, the 65-year-old hid in a large musical instrument case which was then hurried to a local airport. If this really happened, it may have been a tight squeeze even for Mr Ghosn, whose height is reported at 5ft 6in (167cm).
According to the MTV story, he then flew to Turkey, before arriving in Lebanon on a private jet. The broadcaster provided no proof for this theory which, unsurprisingly, spread rapidly across social media.
Mr Ghosn’s wife, Carole, however, told Reuters news agency that reports of the musical escape were “fiction”. She declined to provide details of how her husband did escape the country.
Donning a spy-movie disguise is not beyond Mr Ghosn. In March, in a bid to throw journalists off his scent, he left prison disguised as a construction worker. He was quickly identified, mocked in the media, and his lawyer soon apologised for the “amateur plan”.
The role of Carole Ghosn
The former CEO’s getaway from Tokyo to Beirut was meticulously planned over a period of several weeks or months, according to media reports.
The Wall Street Journal, which cited a number of unidentified sources, said a team was carefully assembled to carry out the plot. The group reportedly included accomplices in Japan who transported Mr Ghosn from his house and onto a private jet bound for Istanbul. From there, he continued his journey to Beirut where he arrived in the early hours of 30 December.
The plane tracking site FlightRadar24 showed a Bombardier Challenger private jet arriving at Beirut-Rafic Hariri international airport shortly after 04:00 local time. Mr Ghosn then met his wife Carole, who was born in the city and was heavily involved in the operation, the Wall Street Journal says.
Several media reports said private security operatives helped smuggle Mr Ghosn out of house arrest.
The Financial Times reported that the operatives had been planning the escape for months, and had allegedly split into several teams working in different countries. Two people familiar with the situation said the preparations were assisted by Mr Ghosn’s Japanese supporters.
The former Nissan boss made his escape by flying out of Japan’s Osaka airport on a private jet, the newspaper reported. It said Mr Ghosn was not required to wear any electronic tags while on bail.
Two unnamed sources close to Mr Ghosn told Reuters news agency that even the pilot of the private jet was unaware of Mr Ghosn’s presence on board.
Several reports have said Carole Ghosn was a major figure behind the plan for her husband to skip bail and get out of Japan. She spoke with him for more than an hour on 24 December, Mr Ghosn’s Japanese lawyer said. The couple had previously been banned from meeting or communicating under Mr Ghosn’s bail conditions.
After her husband arrived in Lebanon, Mrs Ghosn told the Wall Street Journal that their reunion was “the best gift of my life”. She has not commented on her alleged involvement in the operation.
Earlier this year she told the BBC: “I want my husband back. I want him with me. I know he is innocent.”
Questions remain about the documents Mr Ghosn used to enter Lebanon. He holds three passports – Brazilian, French and Lebanese – but his legal team maintain that they were in possession of all of them when he left Japan.
It is not known whether Mr Ghosn was holding duplicate passports – as businesspeople are sometimes allowed to do. It has also been reported that he may have had a diplomatic passport issued by Lebanon although this has not been confirmed.
While the French newspaper Le Monde said he travelled on an ID card, others have reported that he may have used a French passport or even a false identity with forged documents.
A spokesperson for Mr Ghosn told the Financial Times he used a French passport to enter Lebanon but would not disclose how he had left Japan.
Ghadi Khoury, the Lebanese foreign ministry’s director of political affairs, said the former Nissan boss entered the country on a French passport and Lebanese ID, according to the newspaper.
The embarrassment caused by Mr Ghosn’s flight soon sparked a reaction from Japan. One Japanese politician asked whether he “had the support of some country”. A former governor of Tokyo was more forthright, accusing Lebanon of direct involvement.
Mr Ghosn grew up in Lebanon, owns property there and is a popular figure. He even appeared on one of the country’s postage stamps.
The two Reuters sources said the Lebanese ambassador to Japan had visited him every day while he was in detention. The ambassador has not publicly responded to this claim.
The Lebanese government has denied any involvement in Mr Ghosn’s escape.
“The government has nothing to do with [Mr Ghosn’s] decision to come,” Lebanese minister Salim Jreissati was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “We don’t know the circumstances of his arrival.”
Mr Khoury told the Financial Times that Lebanon “had asked for [Mr Ghosn’s] extradition”, but said the government had not had any involvement in his plan to escape.
France and Turkey have also said they were unaware of Mr Ghosn’s plan.
There is no extradition deal between Japan and Lebanon, which means the future of Mr Ghosn’s trial is now fraught with uncertainty.
Japan gives millions in aid to Lebanon and will likely want Mr Ghosn returned. But it will no doubt have to answer further questions about how such a high-profile suspect was able to get out of the country in the first place.
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