In a dramatic development, Nissan Motor's former chief Carlos Ghosn escaped from Japan where he is scheduled to face trial over alleged financial irregularities. Ghosn, the storied turnaround man in the global auto industry, said in a statement that he is in Lebanon, where he has citizenship.

Japanese prosecutors arrested Ghosn in November 2018 over alleged breaches of financial trading law. The auto tycoon, who also headed Renault SA of France, was accused of failing to declare compensation accurately over the years. The dramatic arrest and prolonged imprisonment had triggered speculation of an insider plot that led to Ghosn's downfall. He was released on a $9 million bail in March 2019.

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Nissan
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Nissan Nissan

"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," Ghosn said in a statement on Tuesday. "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," the 65-year-old said.

What we know so far

Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria said Ghosn arrived in Beirut from Turkey on a private plane. Sources told media that Ghosn escaped from Japan as he was convinced that he was not likely to get a fair trial. The executive was "tired of being an industrial political hostage," the Wall Street Journal reported citing an unnamed source.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported, citing a Lebanese security official, that a person who looked like Ghosn arrived at the Beirut international airport under a different name. Ghosn arrived in a private jet Beirut's Rafic al-Hariri international airport late on Sunday. The Japanese immigration authorities had no record of Ghosn leaving through any of the airports, the NHK said. The Financial Times said Ghosn came to Lebanon via Turkey and that he arrived on Monday.

How did Ghosn escape?

Renault
Renault Pixabay

There are only sketchy details on how Ghosn managed to flee Japan. Ghosn was under strict over watch ever since his release on bail in March. He was mandated to stay at a residence in Tokyo and was banned from travelling overseas. His passports had been confiscated by the prosecution and he was under 24-hour surveillance. He was allowed to meet his wife only once and his internet connection was restricted. Plainclothes agents accompanied him when he travelled outside his home. Ghosn was also required to submit a list of all people he met on a monthly basis.

A Tokyo District Court said the terms of Ghosn's bail were not changed, Nikkei Asian Review reported. The Tokyo prosecutors were tight-lipped, ad said only that they "were checking the facts." Meanwhile, Ghosn's Japanese lawyer said he had no idea on how the tycoon managed to travel to Lebanon.

Is he safe in Lebanon?

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Ghosn, who holds Lebanese citizenship, also has deep ties and investments in the Middle Eastern nation. Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. Though he was born in Brazil and has French citizenship, he was raised in Lebanon. His investments in Lebanon stretch from real estate to vineyards, Bloomberg reported. He is viewed as an inspirational business icon in the country, which issued postal stamps in his honour.

Ghosn had alleged that the charges against him were cooked up and were part of a personal vendetta. He said his arrest was the result of a boardroom coup and that his former Nissan colleagues wanted to derail the automaker's closer ties with Renault.

What are the charges against Ghosn?

Saikawa
FILE PHOTO - Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa attends a news conference to release first quarter earnings at the company headquarters in Yokohama, Japan July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The main charge against Ghosn is that he underreported roughly 9.1 billion yen ($83 million) in compensation. He was also indicted on charges that he made a Nissan subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates pay $10 million to a distributor in Oman. Yet another charge is that he had $5 million of this amount transferred to a savings account at a Lebanese investment firm. Ghosn'a supporters believe that he would not get a fair trial in Japan, where conviction rates nearly 100 percent.