Ghosn: I am Not Going Back

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The Quest for Carlos, A waste of Japanese efforts and money

Leila Hatoum
Arab News Japan

BEIRUT— Carlos Ghosn is enjoying the mild mediterranean climate with family and friends, unshaken by the frivolous Japanese authorities’s attempts to retrieve him, saying he “feels safe in Lebanon” and expects his trial to be set “in the next few months”.

Ghosn, the runaway former Nissan and Renault chairman who made quite a few headlines worldwide following his theatrical arrest in Japan back in 2018 on financial misconduct charges, and innovative escape from there late 2019, has come a long way since he left Japan.
And the former car manufacturing mogul, is making sure that he never gets dragged back to prison in Japan, or elsewhere.

Japanese Deputy Justice Minister, Yoshi Hiroyuki, who is arrived in Lebanon earlier this week on a quest to retrieve Ghosn, has crossed 8,984 km from Japan’s capital Tokyo, to Lebanon’s own Beirut in vain, say officials and legal experts.

Some even argue that the Japanese tax payers’ money is being wasted on such futile trips in the absence of any repatriation agreement between Beirut and Tokyo.

Ghosn was made aware of the Japanese minister’s trip before it happened, and he “did not care as he is sure of the Lebanese laws that guarantee he won’t be handed over back to Japan,” one of Ghosn’s friends, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News Japan in a telephone interview on Monday.

He was also reissued by several Lebanese officials and politicians that he will not be handed over as the law is on his side as a Lebanese citizen.

Lebanese President General Michel Aoun, who received Minister Hiroyuki on Monday, insisted that even as “Lebanon is keen on the best relations with Japan,” formally declined Hiroyuki request as “the Lebanese judiciary is sovereign and its jurisdiction is absolute on Lebanese nationals and residents on Lebanese territories…”

President Aoun also noted the lack of cooperation from the Japanese side on the matter of Ghosn since his arrest, saying that “Lebanon has repeatedly contacted Japan regarding the issue of… Ghosn, since his arrest and questioning for more than a year, without receiving official response from Japanese authorities“.

With Hiroyuki’s official request, this makes it the second time that Lebanon denied Japan’s request to repatriate Ghosn, after Tokyo’s authorities issued a Red Notice via the Interpol asking for his arrest and repatriation.

“They will not be able to retrieve him from Lebanon, and he feels safe among his family in his homeland,” family friends, who are in direct contact with Ghosn, told Arab News Japan on Tuesday.

“He meets with his team of lawyers at least twice a week, and they are working on preparing all the files needed for his defense. He is sure of his innocence and can now contest claims brought against him by Nissan and the Japanese government,” insisted a friend of Ghosn’s.

The friend also explained that Ghosn was advised against directly talking to the media at this time.

In a judicial system that believes the accused is “innocent until proven guilty” Ghosn was merely questioned by the Chief Public Prosecutor Ghassan Ouweidat, who had let him go until the Japanese present their legal files. By then a trial will be set to determine whether he is guilty of what he is accused of, and whether that constituted a punishable crime in Lebanon.

The same scenario was implemented on Ghosn’s wife Carole, whom the Japanese have also issued a Red notice against her via the Interpol, claiming she aided her husband in his “mission impossible” flight from Tokyo.

According to Lebanon’s former Justice Minister and former Magistrate Albert Serhan, who was a minister when Ghosn arrived in Lebanon: “Under Lebanese laws, Ghosn is a Lebanese citizen and therefore is enjoys the personal legal protection of guaranteeing him a fair trial at home.

And in the absence of a repatriation agreement between Lebanon and Japan, then by law, and in case he is suspected or accused of committing a punishable crime, he will be tried in Lebanon.”

Ghosn and his camp are optimistic however, that a fair trial in Lebanon will allow him to prove his innocence, something which Ghosn has repeatedly insisted was missing in Japan.

In the overcrowded multinational studded press conference he held in Beirut in January after he fled Tokyo, Ghosn repeatedly pointed out the unfair justice system in Japan, the harsh measures taken against him, the molding of a public opinion against him, and his repeated arrests without any formal accusation or proof of guilt.

Throughout the past year, Nissan had refused to share its evidence against Ghosn or its files on him with the latter’s Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, who tired his best to merge both cases against Ghosn raised by the Japanese government and Nissan, so that he would be able to get the Nissan accusation without avail. This prevented Ghosn’s team from preparing a proper defense.

But the case is just the opposite in Lebanon where both the plaintiff and the defendant have to present their files to the court and based on which they can prepare their case and defenses.

“Ghosn is also not concerned with any accusation related to the way he left Japan. For him, it was like the Russian citizens fleeing the Iron curtain Soviet Union to the West, where they were never tried for that,” the friend adds.

And perhaps his nonchalant attitude toward this particular point is because he entered Lebanon legally.
According to both President Aoun and the Lebanese General Security’s chief, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Ghosn “legally entered Lebanon,” through the Airport, using a “French passport and Lebanese identity card.”

As the circumstances of his departure from Japan and his move to Beirut, are “unknown till now,” according to President Aoun, then the matter is left to the Lebanese judiciary to look into it.

Those close to Ghosn, have revealed that he “expects his trial in Lebanon to kick off in the next few months, and believes that Japan’s judicial authorities will not be attending the sessions, even though they have the right to.”

Nissan however, may be sending its own lawyers to follow-up on the trial. An attempt to reach them did not materialize.

On the other hand, and according to legal sources, Ghosn is preparing to turn the tables against both Renault and Nissan and “sill sue them for tens of millions of dollars they owe him in work compensation, including wages and end of service and/or the unlawful termination of his services, aside from lost profits and legal fees.”

Ghosn, who turns 66 on March 9, is accused of financial misconduct in three different continents including in Asia’s Japan, Europe’s France, and formerly in the U.S., a case which was closed last year after reaching a mutual agreement with the American authorities.
He was recently slapped with another accusation by the Japanese authorities of illegally leaving Japan while on bail awaiting for his trial.

But that is the least of Ghosn’s problems at the moment.

French sources have assured Arab News that the authorities in Nanterre have finalized their case against Ghosn over misconduct charges, including breach of trust and embezzlement.
“The case is solid and it is of a criminal nature, not a financial one according to what some lawyers are saying.”

And the real legal issue here would be whether the French and the Japanese authorities would accept a legal sentence from Lebanon or would refuse to drop their cases against Ghosn.

Freedom at a cost

The man who once headed the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance, is not a lonely man any more, but he definitely is still not feeling much safe.

Much like what Imad Ajami, the coordinator of Ghosn’s Support Executive Committee, told Arab News back in October 2019 that Ghosn feared back then “that he may be followed around. He has become obsessed with the idea that he is being followed,” in Tokyo’s upscale Minato-Ku district, the same scenario plays again in his head today.

Ghosn is aware of some Japanese journalists who have rented an apartment close to his house and have been monitoring him like a hawk.

“Ghosn has complained of this several times, but he literally can do nothing about it as the Japanese have not breached the laws,” says his friend.

But unlike the life of seclusion enforced on him by the Japanese authorities back in Tokyo, Ghosn, “is leading a normal life in Lebanon. He gained weight, and enjoys casual lunches and dinners at restaurants. He goes skiing in the mountains where he has a chalets-project in the Cedar area, and meets with friends,” another family friend said.

He is not the lonely man I wrote about back in October 2019, when even he rarely received visits from his friends.
In Lebanon, Ghosn is a star again.
The Lebanese love the buzz made around him, and they treat him like a celebrity.
He is surrounded by his wife, whom he expressed his longing for since he was arrested end of 2018, and by his children.

However, one thing Ghosn cannot do is travel.
Cases piling against him in France and Japan, as well as a red notice issued against him via the Interpol, and a move by the Turkish authorities who are after him on the matter of his unnoticed transit via one of their airports on a chartered private jet, makes him country-bound… “not that it is bothering him,” according to those who’ve met him.

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