Lebanon receives Interpol wanted notice for Nissan ex-chair Carlos Ghosn
Interpol issued a wanted notice Thursday for former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in a dramatic escape that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.
Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan said in an interview that Lebanon “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan may be brought in for questioning. But he said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Ghosn over to Japan.
The Interpol notice is the latest twist in Ghosn’s escape, which spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey made several arrests Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country.
Ghosn’s arrival in Lebanon jolted the nation, which was already in the midst of a crippling political impasse and its worst economic crisis in decades.
Lebanon must now decide how to deal with the Interpol-issued Red Notice, which is a nonbinding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. A Red Notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Ghosn.
Having pulled off an escape from Japan to Lebanon, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is now free to speak his mind.
Shortly afterward, Ghosn issued a statement — his second this week — seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape.
“The allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. I alone organized my departure. My family played no role,” he said.
Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn’t been seen in public since. In a statement Tuesday, he said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system.”
How he was able to flee Japan, avoiding the tight surveillance he was under while free on $14-million bail, is still a mystery, though Lebanese authorities have said he entered the country legally on a French passport.
Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country, with close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.
Even as he fell from grace internationally, politicians across the board mobilized in his defense after his arrest in Japan in November 2018, with some suggesting his detention may be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy. Lebanon’s foreign minister repeatedly called for his release.
Serhan said that prosecutors will summon Ghosn and listen to him, and that “at a later stage if there are any measures to be taken, then the precautionary measures will be taken.”
“We are a country of law and respect the law. ... I can confirm that the Lebanese state will implement the law,” the justice minister said.
At the same time, Serhan said that Lebanon has not received an official extradition request from Japan and that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Japan raided Ghosn’s Tokyo home.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV, without identifying sources, reported Thursday that Ghosn had two French passports.
Japanese news reports said that there were no official records in Japan of Ghosn’s departure but that a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey. The Hurriyet newspaper said the plane carrying Ghosn landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at 5:30 a.m. Sunday. Ghosn was not registered upon landing and was smuggled onto another plane that left for Lebanon, the paper reported.
Ghosn, who is charged in Japan with breach of trust and under-reporting his future compensation, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault.
In another twist, two Lebanese lawyers submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office against Ghosn on Thursday, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The two countries are in a state of war. Ghosn visited Israel in 2008 and met officials including the prime minister and the president. At the time he announced the launch of electric cars in Israel.
In Beirut’s affluent residential neighborhood of Ashrafieh, several security guards stood outside Ghosn’s rose-colored mansion Thursday along with about two dozen journalists. Since news of his arrival, journalists, including many from the Japanese media, have flocked outside the building, trying to capture any proof of his presence.
At one point, a Lebanese lawyer who said he worked for Nissan appeared, claiming the building belonged to the auto company, not to Ghosn.
One of Ghosn’s neighbors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are “split as to whether they are with or against his return.”
“It sounds like his escape could be the new Netflix show,” the neighbor’s wife joked.
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