Who is Carlos Ghosn and why is he an internationally wanted man?

Interpol has issued what’s called a Red Notice to Lebanon, a non-binding request to find and arrest Carlos Ghosn, the former auto industry executive who became a fugitive after he turned up in Lebanon on Tuesday, revealing he had secretly escaped Japan where he faces criminal charges of financial wrongdoing.

A Red Notice is not an arrest warrant. It instead requests a country provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition. 

Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan. 

Who is Carlos Ghosn?

Carlos Ghosn is the 64-year-old multimillionaire former head of Renault who was also CEO of Nissan. 

In 1999, Renault and Nissan formed a strategic alliance, of which Ghosn was the founding chair and CEO. He is credited with reviving Nissan. 

Ghosn holds passports from France, Lebanon and Brazil. 

What is he charged with?

Ghosn was arrested Nov. 19, 2018, in Tokyo. He was charged with under-reporting his salary by about half over a five-year period. 

He was indicted a month later, and immediately re-arrested on charges of under-reporting his salary for an additional three years. 

Then on Dec. 21, 2018, he was arrested on new allegations. Japanese prosecutors accused him of shifting personal losses of $16.6 million US to Nissan. 

In his first court appearance in January 2019, he declared his innocence and said he had been falsely accused. He was freed on bail.

Japanese prosecutors arrested him for a fourth time in April 2019, accusing him of trying to enrich himself at Nissan’s expense. He was again freed on bail, but, according to his lawyers, not before spending weeks in solitary confinement and facing 130 days of interrogation.  

Why did he flee Japan?

Ghosn surprised and embarrassed Japanese officials when he surfaced in Lebanon on Tuesday, claiming he was escaping what he called a “rigged” Japanese justice system. 

Japan has a conviction rate of 99 per cent in criminal prosecutions. 

Rights activists in Japan and abroad say Japan’s judicial system does not presume innocence and relies heavily on long detentions that lead to false confessions.

The charges Ghosn faces carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Sources close to Ghosn told Reuters a delay to a trial and a strict ban on communicating with his wife were what motivated him to sneak out of the country. 

How did he escape?

This part of the story remains a mystery for now.

There has been speculation from a Lebanese TV news channel that he escaped in the case of a musical instrument — perhaps a stand-up bass — after a musical group performed a private concert at his Tokyo residence. 

Under the terms of his bail, Ghosn was being surveilled. He had to have security cameras installed at the entrance to his house, and neighbours described a black vehicle, which always seemed to be idling outside of the home anytime Ghosn was there. So it’s not clear how he slipped out unnoticed. 

Three wireless security cameras installed above the entrance of Ghosn’s Tokyo residence are pictured, while prosecutors search the house on Thursday. Under the terms of his bail, Ghosn had to have them installed. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

What is known is that he passed through Istanbul on his way to Lebanon.

Who else was involved?

That’s also part of the intrigue.

One of Ghosn’s lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters that lawyers for the executive were holding his French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports, as required by the terms of his bail.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Thursday that Japanese authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, potentially shedding some light on how he managed to escape despite having passports held by Japanese lawyers.

One of Ghosn’s lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters that lawyers for Ghosn were holding his French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports, as required by the terms of his bail. (Kyodo via Reuters)

Also on Thursday, Turkish police detained seven people, including four pilots, as part of the investigation, according to a police spokesperson.

She said the other detainees were two airport ground staff and one cargo worker, and all seven were expected to give statements in court.

Flight tracking data suggested Ghosn used two different planes to fly to Istanbul and then to Lebanon.

Notable quotes

“I … 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, in flagrant disregard of Japan’s legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold.”

– Carlos Ghosn, in a statement Dec. 31, 2019

“I alone arranged for my departure. My family had no role whatsoever.”

– Carlos Ghosn, in a statement Jan. 2

What’s next? 

Ghosn has said he will speak to reporters next week. 

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