File photo via Xinhua
BEIRUT (AP) — Nissan’s fugitive ex-chair Carlos Ghosn appeared in public in Lebanon on Wednesday for the first time since fleeing Japan last month ahead of his trial for alleged financial misconduct.
Ghosn arrived at the press syndicate in Beirut where he was to hold a news conference - the first time he’s spoken directly and in person with journalists since his arrest in Japan in November 2018. He was accompanied by his wife.
Dozens of local and international journalists were gathered for the much-anticipated news conference by the disgraced auto industry icon. Security was tight with Lebanese policemen and a sniffer dog on hand at the venue.
Ghosn's appearance is his first in public since he smuggled himself from Tokyo to Beirut, arriving in the Lebanese capital where he grew up and is regarded by many as a national hero.
Ghosn's daring and improbable escape has perplexed and embarrassed Japanese authorities after he skipped bail and managed to flee the country despite supposedly rigorous surveillance.
Media reports have said that he left his residence alone, met two men at a Tokyo hotel, and then took a bullet train to Osaka before boarding a private jet hidden inside a case for musical equipment. He flew to Istanbul and was then transferred onto another plane bound for Beirut, where he arrived Dec. 30.
On Wednesday, Tokyo prosecutors raided a Japanese lawyer's office where Ghosn had visited regularly before he fled. Japanese media reports said prosecutors had likely seized the computer to track down how Ghosn escaped and who might have helped him.
An hour before the scheduled press conference, a Lebanese prosecutor said Ghosn will be summoned “in the coming hours” over a visit to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Two Lebanese lawyers had submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office against Ghosn last week, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The two neighboring countries are technically in a state of war. Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury met with the two lawyers who filed the case on Wednesday and asked them to bring additional evidence, adding he would summon Ghosn in the coming hours.
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.
Lebanese authorities have said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, casting doubt on the possibility they would hand him over to Japan. Lebanon last week received an Interpol-issued wanted notice — a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive.
Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, and the Interpol notice does not require Lebanon to arrest him.
Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was expected to go on trial in Tokyo in April. In statements, he has said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system." He also said that he alone organized his departure from Japan and that his wife, Carole, played no role.
On Tuesday, Tokyo prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Carole Ghosn on suspicion of perjury. That charge is not related to his escape. Lebanon's justice minister said Tuesday that Lebanon has not received any request related to that warrant.
Japanese justice officials acknowledge that it’s unclear whether the Ghosns can be brought back to Japan to face charges.
Ghosn’s former employer, Nissan Motor Co., said it was still pursuing legal action against him despite his escape, adding that Ghosn engaged in serious misconduct while leading the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance. Ghosn denies all the charges.