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World

Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn Flees Japan, Charges He Faces For Financial Wrongdoing

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The story we're about to get into has the elements of an international thriller - a world-famous executive facing trial for financial crimes, a daring escape and a host of mysteries about how he got away. To help us unravel some of what happened, we're joined now by NPR's Chris Arnold. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So OK, the man we are talking about is Carlos Ghosn. He's the former head of the car companies Nissan and Renault.

ARNOLD: That's right.

CHANG: And he was this, like, celebrated CEO. But then he got arrested in Japan for alleged financial crimes. He fled Japan, made his way into Lebanon. And the first question I have is, how did he get away?

ARNOLD: Well, that is the big question, right? Because we do know that he is in Lebanon now. He's escaped from Japan. And in Japan, he was living in Tokyo. He was under heavy police surveillance. He was out on bail but in this house arrest situation. If he left the house, his movements were tracked. And beyond that, his lawyer in Japan says that Ghosn had handed over his three passports. He had passports from Brazil, France and Lebanon. As this was part of an agreement with authorities, the lawyer still has the passports too. So if you're under house arrest, you have no passport, the authorities are watching, and they think you're a flight risk, and this is an extremely high-profile case. How do you slip out of the country?

CHANG: So you are literally answering my question with the same question.

ARNOLD: I am, but there's more.

CHANG: Oh, do tell.

ARNOLD: OK. So there is a pretty wild account coming out for Lebanese TV right now. We don't know if this is all true. But here's how this story goes. It involves a Gregorian music band and a very large instrument case. So OK, apparently what happened was this plan involved getting a band to play at Ghosn's house. And then when they were done, he hides inside an instrument case. They get him out, spirit him away under the nose of the Japanese authorities onto a private plane at a small airport, off to Turkey, to Lebanon. Boom - Ghosn is gone, no longer in Japan. And he is now a world-famous international fugitive.

CHANG: Wow. Why Lebanon, though?

ARNOLD: Ghosn was raised there as a boy. He was born in Brazil, but raised in Lebanon. And he owns property there. He's got a vineyard and other business interests. And his wife and ex-wife are from there. So he has family and is also well known and pretty widely admired, it seems like. The country put his face on a postage stamp.

CHANG: Wow, OK.

ARNOLD: When he got arrested, billboards went up saying, you know, we support you basically. So he's being welcomed at least by some there with open arms. But we should also note that part of the reason probably has to do with the fact that Lebanon does not have an extradition agreement with Japan. So he may be hoping that this will allow him to remain there a long time if he has to.

CHANG: And throughout all of this, we should say that Ghosn has adamantly denied any wrongdoing. So what are the charges he's facing in Japan?

ARNOLD: All right. Well, prosecutors say basically he improperly took many millions of dollars from Nissan to enrich himself and pay for his lavish lifestyle. And he did do things like, at one point, he had a party for his wife at the Palace of Versailles in France a few years ago. But look. Ghosn says, no, these charges were trumped up. There were fears in Japan that he was going to fold Nissan, the Japanese car company, into the French car company too much. And Ghosn didn't think he was going to get a fair trial - 99% of people who do get indicted in Japan get convicted.

And so he said in a statement, quote, "I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed." And he's expected to have more to say about all this next week.

CHANG: All right. We'll stay tuned. That is NPR's Chris Arnold. Thank you, Chris.

ARNOLD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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