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Facing Financial Misconduct Trial, Ex-Nissan Chief Flees Japan For Lebanon

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nissan's former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, has fled Japan. He was facing trial for allegations of financial misconduct. Ghosn was once one of the most powerful figures in the auto industry until his arrest in 2018. He'd been released on bail in Tokyo earlier this year, placed under close surveillance and ordered to surrender his passports, precautions that apparently were not enough. Simon Denyer is The Washington Post bureau chief in Tokyo. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.

SIMON DENYER: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did Carlos Ghosn get to Lebanon?

DENYER: Well, I wish I knew. It's a mystery that woke us all up this morning, I have to say. You know, we thought at first - or a lot of people thought at first there had to be - the authorities had to know that the Japanese had brokered some deal with the Lebanese government. The Japanese vice foreign minister was in Lebanon recently. But, you know, as the day's gone on and the Japanese government sounds mystified - as mystified as the rest of us, we're beginning to think that some kind of daring escape kind of took place where Ghosn just outfoxed everybody and left.

INSKEEP: How does he explain his departure?

DENYER: He just says - he hasn't explained it yet. He's promised to talk to the media from Beirut in coming days. He's basically just said he's not a fugitive from justice; he's a fugitive from injustice. So he's fleeing an unfair court system. He's been complaining - he and his lawyers have been complaining that this was a stitch up from the very start. They've been extremely frustrated at his treatment. They don't think he's going to get a fair trial. And it seems as though he finally decided that the prospect of 15 years - up to 15 years in jail, which is the maximum sentence, against losing his bail money, which was a record $14 million, you know, it was a better bet to leave and let the money go.

INSKEEP: I guess we don't want to speculate too much here, but I'm just thinking about the available facts. He was still a very wealthy man - correct? - and if what you needed to get out of Japan was a fake passport or encouraging some official to look the other way, money might be the thing that would make that happen for you.

DENYER: Well, that's possible. I mean, we do have a Lebanese - unnamed Lebanese security official told Japan's state broadcaster that a person resembling Carlos Ghosn arrived in a private jet travelling under a different name with a different passport. So, you know, that has to be a possibility that somehow forged documents were used, some airfield was used and a private jet got him out of the country. But as I say, we really don't know the details. Hopefully, we will in the next few days.

INSKEEP: What is it that Carlos Ghosn allegedly did that he says are unfair charges? What does the government say he did?

DENYER: Rather complicated sort of financial misdemeanors - underreporting his income, doing deals with car dealerships in the Middle East with Nissan money that personally benefited him, transferring some money from a Nissan account to one of his accounts during the financial crisis to cover losses, money he said he - was with Nissan's knowledge and he'd pay back.

INSKEEP: Can he be tried in absentia without being there?

DENYER: I don't know, actually. It's possible, but certainly, there's very little chance of him being extradited. There's no extradition treaty between Lebanon and Japan. He's a very popular figure in Lebanon, so I think he has escaped justice for the time being.

INSKEEP: Simon Denyer of The Washington Post, thank you so much.

DENYER: Pleasure. Thanks very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's on Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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