Ghosn used spare French passport to flee, says report

The ex-Nissan boss, accused of financial mismanagement, was allowed to carry a spare passport, Japanese media said.

Carlos Ghosn--BLOOMBERG
Japanese prosecutors raided Carlos Ghosn's Tokyo home after he left the country, according to reports and photos of the raid from local media [File: Bloomberg]

Japanese authorities allowed former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, public broadcaster NHK said on Thursday, shedding some light on how he managed a dramatic escape to Lebanon.

Prosecutors on Thursday raided the Tokyo residence of the former Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman, NHK also reported.

Ghosn, one of the world’s best-known executives, has become Japan‘s most famous fugitive after he revealed on Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged” justice system.

The businessman, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenships, was smuggled out of Tokyo by a private security company days ago, the culmination of a plan that was crafted over three months with the help of his Lebanese wife, the Reuters news agency has reported.

Officials in Lebanon said Ghosn entered legally on a French passport. But one of Ghosn’s Japanese lawyers has said the lawyers were still in possession of all three of his passports, under the terms of his bail.

However, Ghosn had been issued a spare French passport, NHK said, citing unidentified sources, and carried it in the months before his departure.

Japanese authorities have not officially commented on Ghosn’s disappearance. Government offices are shut this week for the New Year holiday.

NHK, citing the sources, said he had been “obliged” to carry the passport with him since May, without elaborating on the reason. Foreigners in Japan are required to carry government-issued identification cards or passports at all times.

NHK said his lawyers applied to have the terms of his bail changed so that he could carry a passport in a locked case.

His lawyers in Japan said they had no knowledge of the escape and they had all his passports.

The key to the locked case in which the spare passport was kept was held by his lawyers, NHK said.

No one was immediately available for comment at the office of his lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, the French embassy in Tokyo, or at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, Reuters reported.

Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018 and faces four charges – which he denies – including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to car dealerships in the Middle East. He enjoyed an outpouring of support from Lebanon after his arrest.

Tokyo raid

Japanese prosecutors raided Ghosn’s Tokyo home after he left the country, according to reports and photos of the raid from Japanese media, The Associated Press news agency reported on Thursday.

Tokyo prosecutors and police did not immediately comment to the AP.

Ghosn has said he would talk to reporters next week.

Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon, which has said there was no reason to take action against Ghosn when he entered the country.

Lebanese authorities reportedly asked for Ghosn’s return a week before he escaped Tokyo, according to the Financial Times report citing people familiar with the matter.

The request was backed at the highest level and will probably intensify questions over the support Ghosn received from Lebanon in the run-up to his escape, the report said.

A person close to the Ghosn family told the FT that the private security operatives hired by Ghosn had split into several teams operating in different countries.

Preparations were assisted by Japanese supporters of Ghosn, said two people familiar with the situation.

Earlier Japanese reports said there were no official records in Japan of Ghosn’s departure, but a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey.

Ghosn, who was charged with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co and alliance partner Renault SA. 

Turkey launches probe

Later on Thursday, Turkish media reported that  authorities have detained seven people suspected of aiding Ghosn.

NTV television said the probe was launched by launched by Turkey’s Interior Ministry.

The private DHA news agency reports that those detained are 4 pilots, a cargo company manager and two airport workers.

Ghosn fled to Lebanon this week before his trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges. Turkish media reports said he flew to Lebanon on a private jet via Istanbul.

Source: News Agencies