BEIRUT — How did one of the world's most high-profile alleged criminals escape the strict surveillance of the Japanese authorities, fleeing the country and showing up thousands of miles away in Lebanon?
Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn was supposed to be living under a microscope in Tokyo ahead of his trial next year. He's accused of a series of financial misdeeds, including the concealment of about $88 million in income.
And yet, on Tuesday, he somehow showed up 5,500 miles away in Beirut, announcing that he had fled to avoid "injustice and political persecution." Ghosn, 65, was born in Brazil but has family ancestry in Lebanon and holds a Lebanese passport.
One of his lawyers told reporters in Tokyo that his legal team still had custody of his three passports — French, Brazilian and Lebanese — as required by the terms of his bail, according to Reuters. That suggested that he avoided immigration controls on both ends of his trip to Beirut, an act that the lawyer described as "inexcusable."
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But Lebanon's General Directorate of Public Security said in a statement Tuesday that while there had been "many interpretations" about how he had entered the country, he had done so "legally."
It added that "there are no measures that require taking measures against him or exposing him to legal prosecution," but it offered no more details.
Reports, rumors and speculation have swirled as to how Ghosn made his escape. An unverified report by the Lebanese TV channel MTV claimed that he had been spirited away in a large musical instrument case, possibly for a double bass, after a band played at his home in Tokyo.
Ghosn was ousted from Nissan last year and charged with under-reporting his compensation and other financial misconduct.
His lawyers say the allegations were trumped up in a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to prevent a fuller merger with Nissan's alliance partner, Renault SA of France.
Before his downfall, Ghosn was one of the auto industry's biggest stars, is credited with leading Nissan from near-bankruptcy to growth.
Even as he fell from grace internationally, Ghosn was still treated as a hero in Lebanon. Many here had long held hopes that he would one day play a bigger role in politics or would help rescue its failing economy.
He announced his arrival in the country in a statement via his representatives.
"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," he said. "I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution."
Alexander Smith reported from London. Mustafa Kassem reported from Beirut.