Lebanon gets Interpol fugitive notice for Carlos Ghosn as escape details emerge

Associated Press
Autoblog



BEIRUT — Lebanon's justice minister said Thursday that Lebanon has received an international wanted notice from Interpol for Nissan’s ex-chair Carlos Ghosn, four days after he fled Japan to Lebanon before a trial on financial misconduct charges.

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Albert Serhan told The Associated Press in an interview that the Red Notice for the former automotive titan was received earlier Thursday by the prosecution.

Ghosn skipped bail before his much-anticipated trial, which was to start in April. He arrived in Lebanon, his country of origin, on Monday via Turkey and hasn't been seen in public since. Authorities have said that he entered legally on a French passport.

A plane carrying Ghosn arrived at 5:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) Monday at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Hurriyet reported, adding that prosecutors ordered the arrests after widening their investigation.

Flight tracking data from that time suggests that Ghosn used two different planes to fly into Istanbul and then on to Lebanon.

Japanese authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, public broadcaster NHK said on Thursday, shedding some light on how he managed his escape to Lebanon.

While some Lebanese media have floated a Houdini-like account of Ghosn being packed in a wooden container for musical instruments after a private concert in his home, his wife called the account “fiction” when contacted by Reuters.

She declined to provide details of the exit of one of the most recognized titans of industry. The accounts of the two sources suggest a carefully planned escape known only to a few.

They said a private security firm oversaw the plan, which involved shuttling Ghosn out via a private jet to Istanbul before pushing onward to Beirut, with even the pilot unaware of Ghosn’s presence on board.

Interpol’s so-called Red Notices are requests to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a wanted fugitive.

Serhan, the minister, said the Lebanese prosecution “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that Ghosn may be brought in for questioning. But he said that Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, ruling out the possibility that Beirut would hand Ghosn over to Japan

One sources who spoke with Reuters said Ghosn was greeted warmly by President Michel Aoun on Monday after flying into Beirut via Istanbul and was now in a buoyant and combative mood and felt secure.

Security forces are guarding Ghosn's current residence in Lebanon, as seen in the photo above. He is staying at the home of a relative of his wife, but plans to return soon to a gated villa in the upscale Beirut neighborhood of Achrafieh, one of Reuters' sources said.

The plan to slip Ghosn out of Japan, which marked the latest twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, was crafted over three months, according to Reuters' sources.

“It was a very professional operation from start to finish,” one of them said.

In his meeting at the presidency, Ghosn thanked Aoun for the support he had given him and his wife, Carole, while he was in detention, the sources said. He now needs the protection and security of his government after fleeing Japan, the sources added.

The meeting between Aoun and Ghosn has not been made public and a media adviser to the president’s office denied the two men had met. Reuters' sources said specifics of the meeting were described to them by Ghosn.

Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Ghosn's Tokyo home. Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn's third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one.

Tokyo prosecutors and police did not immediately comment. Government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year's holidays.

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

Ghosn said Tuesday in a statement that he left for Lebanon because he thought the Japanese judicial system was unjust, and he wanted to avoid “political persecution.” Ghosn will hold a news conference in Beirut on Jan. 8, a lawyer for Ghosn said.

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

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

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

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

Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said Thursday that Turkish authorities had detained seven people as part of an investigation into how Ghosn fled to Lebanon via 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 Ghosn landed at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport at 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 29. Ghosn was not registered upon landing and was smuggled on board another plane that left for Lebanon, the paper reported.

Ghosn, who was charged in Japan with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA.

The 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail that Ghosn posted on two separate instances to get out of detention is being revoked.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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