Tycoon flees Japan ‘in musical instrument case’
Tycoon flees Tokyo house arrest for Lebanon by ‘hiding inside case for musical instrument’
ONE of the world’s most powerful business leaders has staged a daring escape from house arrest in Japan – reportedly by hiding inside a case for a double bass.
Carlos Ghosn was due to stand trial on corruption charges after being ousted as boss of Nissan and Renault, but has fled the country for Lebanon.
He escaped after inviting a Gregorian band to perform a Christmas concert at the Tokyo apartment where he has been under 24-hour surveillance since March, Lebanese media reported.
He is then said to have slipped inside the case for their double bass, before being spirited away with the aid of ex-special forces soldiers. The 65-year- old is thought to have boarded a private jet in Osaka and flown to Beirut early on Monday.
Mr Ghosn, a Lebanese citizen, said after arriving in Beirut: “I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
CARLOS GHOSN has fled heavily guarded house arrest in Japan during a dramatic escape in which he is believed to have been smuggled out inside a case for a musical instrument.
The ousted Renault and Nissan boss reportedly organised a concert at his Tokyo property to dodge detectives who had been watching him for nine months, before making his way to Lebanon via two private jets.
It means the 65-year-old will now avoid a blockbuster criminal trial for corruption which had been due to start in April – and makes him the most high-profile white collar fugitive in global history.
In a statement issued after he arrived in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, Mr Ghosn attacked the Japanese justice system, claimed he had been the victim of political persecution and vowed to tell his story to the world’s media next week. He said: “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. I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
Many details of the escape remain unclear. However, Lebanese TV station MTV reported that a Gregorian band played a Christmas concert for Mr Ghosn at his apartment in Japan, before he was spirited away in one of their larger instrument boxes in a plot masterminded by his wife Carole and supported by ex-special forces soldiers.
He is thought to have boarded a chartered Bombardier jet from an airport in Osaka to Istanbul, landing in Turkey at 5.30am local time on Monday. He is thought to have then switched to another plane which took off 40 minutes later bound for Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut.
Lebanese police officers were last night standing guard outside a property owned by the Ghosn family in the capital. The tycoon’s whereabouts is unknown.
The escape follows a stunning fall from grace for Mr Ghosn, who rose to become the car industry’s most powerful executive and united Japanese firms Nissan and Mitsubishi with the French company Renault in a global alliance.
After almost two decades of untrammelled power during which he became a superstar in Japan, amassed a £91m fortune and even had a comic book written about him, Mr Ghosn was suddenly arrested in late 2018 and accused of taking millions of pounds in secret payments from his company.
The executive – who was born in Brazil but raised in Lebanon from the age of six – was locked up in Tokyo Detention Centre for more than 100 days and reportedly grilled by investigators for 14 hours at a time as they sought in vain to extract a confession before he went to trial, in a country which has a 99pc conviction rate.
He was eventually released on bail in March 2019 following the payment of a record $14m (£11m) bond, which will now reportedly be confiscated.
Mr Ghosn’s escape is all the more remarkable given the strict conditions under which he was placed after his release. The tycoon was shadowed at all times by police, prosecutors and a private detective while out in public.
A 24-hour surveillance camera was installed at the entrance of his apartment, he was prohibited from accessing the internet and using email, and for months was forbidden from communicating with his wife.
In a previous interview with The New York Times, Lebanese national Mrs Ghosn, 53, said the authorities at one point confiscated her phones, passport, diary and letters she had written to her husband while he was in jail.
She said that a woman from the prosecutors’ office followed her into the bathroom and when she stepped out of the shower, the woman handed her a towel. Mrs Ghosn added: “They wanted to humiliate me and my husband. I was treated like a terrorist … like I had a bomb on me.” Mr Ghosn had three passports, issued by Lebanon, France and Brazil. All were confiscated on his arrest and are still being held by his lawyers in Japan, who insist they played no part in his flight.
A person resembling Mr Ghosn entered Beirut international airport under a different name, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported, citing a Lebanese security official.
Selim Jreissati, Lebanon’s state minister for presidential affairs, told local press that he landed legally with a French passport and Lebanese ID. Mr Jreissati said he had previously pressed the Japanese to hand Mr Ghosn over for trial in Lebanon in accordance with international anti-corruption laws.
The businessman has become a folk hero in Lebanon – where he also partowns the premium Ixsir vineyard – and is seen as victim of cruel injustice. Lebanese TV host Ricardo Karam, a friend of the fugitive, said: “He is home. It’s a big adventure.”
When the charges against him were first announced, his face appeared on billboards all over Beirut with the message “We are all Carlos Ghosn” as a gesture of support.
That enthusiasm apparently remained strong yesterday despite mass anti-corruption protests which have rocked the tiny Mediterranean country since mid-october and forced out prime minister Saad Hariri, leaving the country locked in political stalemate and heading for economic collapse.
One man posted a “Carlos, welcome home!” letter through the gate of Mr Ghosn’s $15m pink mansion in the exclusive neighbourhood of Achrafieh yesterday, although another passing local muttered that he epitomises what the Lebanese are trying to get rid of with the protests.
Back in Japan, Mr Ghosn’s own lawyers condemned his actions although the authorities’ response was more muted. At a hastily arranged press conference, Mr Ghosn’s lead defender Junichiro Hironaka – known as “the Razor” for his sharp legal arguments – said he was “dumbfounded”.
Mr Hironaka, who last saw his client on Christmas Day, said: “His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan’s justice system. Maybe he thought he would not get a fair trial. I don’t blame him for thinking that way.”
The French government also said it had no prior knowledge of the escape plan. Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-runacher told French radio Mr Ghosn would be able to get consular support as a citizen of the country.
Meanwhile Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, Matahiro Yamaguchi, was at a party in Beirut when the escape became public knowledge. He was approached by MTV at the gathering but said he had no information about what had happened.
A Tokyo court has now granted prosecutors’
‘I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system’
‘His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan’s justice system. Maybe he thought he would not get a fair trial’
request for Mr Ghosn’s bail to be revoked, according to NHK. However, Japan has no extradition treaty with Lebanon – or any other country apart from the US and South Korea – meaning he is likely to remain at large.
Mr Ghosn has always denied wrongdoing and insisted his arrest was part of a politically motivated coup as he sought to integrate Nissan and Renault.
The case has put Japan’s often harsh justice system under international scrutiny and was expected to lead to a closely fought trial in four months’ time. Mr Ghosn’s former top aide Greg Kelly, 63, has also been awaiting trial on similar misconduct charges and remains in Tokyo.
The charges Mr Ghosn faces include under-reporting his income from Nissan for eight years through to March 2018 and of transferring a loss-making private derivatives contract to a Nissan account. He is also accused of paying $14.6m in company funds to a Saudi Arabian businessman in a deal that was not sanctioned by Nissan.
The fourth charge is that he ordered a Nissan subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates to pay $10m to a distributor in Oman and to have $5m of that total subsequently transferred to an account at a Lebanese investment firm that Mr Ghosn effectively owns.
Mr Ghosn has denied all the allegations.
Lebanese minister Mr Jreissati said his government will not yet be taking a formal stance on Mr Ghosn, as it has received no official word from Japan.
Neither the Japanese embassy in Lebanon nor the Lebanese embassy in Japan was immediately available to comment.
If there is ever a remake of The Great Escape, we now have the perfect, if unlikely, candidate to play Steve Mcqueen. Step forward fallen Nissan-renault boss Carlos Ghosn who has somehow managed to evade 24-hour surveillance in Japan, where he was due to face trial on charges of financial misconduct, and escape the country.
He has fled to Beirut. Ghosn has Lebanese citizenship and there is no extradition agreement with Japan.
His getaway is so dramatic that it is deserving of its own Hollywood biopic. Unconfirmed reports in Lebanon claim Ghosn escaped in a box designed to hold a musical instrument – a double bass or tuba, one presumes – with the help of a paramilitary group. The mind boggles at how much it would have cost to put together such a daring escape.
His breakout is highly embarrassing for Japan, which had imposed a set of 15 strict bail conditions on Ghosn as part of his release.
He stands accused of serious crimes: falsifying financial statements to understate his pay by more than $80m (£61m) and misusing company assets for his own gains.
Still, you can’t blame the 65-year-old for absconding. From the outset, his treatment has been appalling. Ghosn knew nothing about the charges facing him until he stepped off his private jet on to Japanese soil where prosecutors were waiting for him in March 2018.
He was held in prison for more than 100 days and subjected to hours of questioning daily with only limited access to his legal team.
It had all the look of an elaborate power grab orchestrated by Nissan with the full backing of the Japanese state. Nissan has long been frustrated by the imbalance in the arrangement with Renault and it was afraid that Ghosn was planning to deepen ties through a merger, a move that would have been strongly opposed by the Japanese carmaker’s board to prevent further loss of control.
Having posted a total of nearly $14m in bail – among the highest ever paid in Japan – Ghosn, who also holds French and Brazilian nationality, had been forced to surrender all of his passports.
There was a camera monitoring the doorway of his Tokyo apartment, a record was kept of his phone calls and the people he met, he wasn’t allowed to access the internet and was forbidden from communicating with his wife Carole.
The former executive was also tailed by three separate police agencies when he moved around Tokyo.
Japanese courts have a conviction rate of nearly 100pc, compared with 87pc in the UK. Prosecutors rely heavily on confessions extracted from suspects during long periods in police custody without the presence of a lawyer, and the prosecution is permitted to introduce evidence obtained without a warrant.
Both the United Nations Committee Against Torture and Amnesty International have expressed concerns about Japan’s legal practices, including the lack of rules applied to interrogations during pre-trial detentions.
In Ghosn’s case, there would have been even greater pressure to secure a conviction given his status as one of the world’s most prominent business figures and the fear that he was secretly plotting to seize greater control over a national asset as important as Nissan.
His chances of a fair trial were practically zero.
‘It had all the look of an elaborate power grab ... with the full backing of the state’
Cut the advice and the rates
The first 14 towns to benefit from a £1bn fund to improve high streets have been named.
They include downtrodden places such as Kendal in Cumbria and Swinton in Greater Manchester, though sadly not my home town of Grimsby, which must be as deserving of help as anywhere else.
The scheme is being heralded as some sort of game-changer with each town promised a £25m lifeline. As ever, the devil is in the detail though.
That figure isn’t cold, hard cash that can be pumped directly into businesses, empty premises or spent on improving local amenities. It is £25m worth of “training, support and access to research” designed to make small businesses more competitive.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the task force will “provide the tools to get the best advice possible”.
Yet retailers don’t want advice. They are being pummelled by Amazon and other online giants. Business rate cuts and lower rents would be far more effective in levelling the playing field.
Carlos Ghosn, the ex-nissan chief, was facing corruption charges; his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said his escape was unforgivable