Ty­coon flees Ja­pan ‘in mu­si­cal in­stru­ment case’

Ty­coon flees Tokyo house ar­rest for Le­banon by ‘hid­ing in­side case for mu­si­cal in­stru­ment’

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Ab­bie Cheese­man, Ju­lian Ryall and Si­mon Foy

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

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