Former car magnate Carlos Ghosn’s stunning departure from Japan, where he was facing trial on financial misconduct charges, poses numerous questions as to where his story goes next.
Venerated French cartoonist Plantu of Le Monde newspaper portrayed the 65-year-old Tuesday with a smile on his face, a party hat on his head and relaxing in a hammock.
The look of insouciance contrasted with the consternation in Japan after his arrival in Beirut via Istanbul.
– Sprung out in music case? –
The exact circumstances of Ghosn’s daring escape from Japan, where he had been released on bail in April pending trial after 130 days in prison, remain unclear, though colourful rumours abound.
One claim in the Lebanese media is that the auto mogul, who holds Lebanese, French and Brazilian nationalities, was sprung from his Tokyo residence in a musical instrument case — a story a source in his entourage denied.
A Lebanese presidential source said the former Nissan and Renault boss had landed in Turkey before an early hours onward flight to Lebanon. The stunt left his Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka dumbfounded — Hironaka says the mogul’s three passports remain in Japan.
Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that Ghosn entered the country legally. The country’s General Security apparatus said that “there are no measures that warrant taking steps against him or prosecuting him.”
– Can he be extradited? –
“There is no extradition accord between Lebanon and Japan,” a source at the Lebanese ministry of justice told AFP.
Though that is the case, one expert in international relations told AFP that “the absence of (an extradition) convention does not in itself preclude extraditing an individual.
“But certain states, Lebanon included, do not extradite their nationals,” the expert added.
Former Lebanese justice minister, Ibrahim Najjar, said that if Interpol were to become engaged in the case Ghosn’s name would be communicated to border authorities in member countries with a view to his arrest.
“But Interpol cannot have him arrested by force or impose any decision on Lebanon.”
The international relations expert noted that a Lebanese court could try Ghosn “if he has committed a crime punishable by Lebanese law” but “Lebanon cannot judge a person accused of tax fraud committed in a foreign country”.
Tokyo trial outlook
Arrested in Tokyo in November 2018, Ghosn, who insists he is fleeing “injustice and political persecution”, faced going on trial in April on four charges including under-reporting salary, allegedly trying to have Nissan cover personal foreign exchange losses and using millions of Nissan funds transferred to a dealership in Oman for his own use.
But his departure, which his defence counsel labelled inexcusable, has thrown the process up in the air.
“The defence team has totally lost face,” having earlier promised Ghosn would not leave the country, former prosecutor Nobuo Gohara, a lawyer, told AFP.
“For the prosecutors it is an extremely serious situation. Nissan must be afraid. And the prosecutors as well.”
The Tokyo Shimbun daily reported that “there is a very high probability that his trial will not be held”.
France also has a legal action against Ghosn opened last April over alleged financial wrongdoing but “his absconding should not have any consequences for our investigation”, French prosecutor Catherine Denis told AFP on Tuesday.
– What next for Ghosn? –
Ghosn, now in his Beirut home with his wife according to a family friend, has vowed to communicate “freely” with the media “starting next week” and put his side of an episode which has divided the city where he grew up.
Lebanese writer and film director Lucien Bourjeily waxed ironic on Twitter, observing wryly that Ghosn “has come for the comfort and ‘efficiency’ of a Lebanese judicial system which has never put a politician in jail for corruption”.
That, in a country where the populace are currently up in arms against a political class they see as venal.