BEIRUT – Lebanon banned former auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn from travel Thursday and asked Japan to hand over his file on financial misconduct charges as Tokyo urged the fugitive to return.
The 65-year-old businessman — for years venerated in Japan for turning around once-ailing Nissan — fled while awaiting trial on charges including allegedly under-reporting his compensation to the tune of $85 million.
His shock arrival in his native Lebanon last month was the latest twist in a story worthy of a Hollywood plot and prompted outrage from the Japanese government as well as from Nissan.
On Thursday morning, a day after Ghosn made an impassioned defense in front world media of his decision to jump bail and flee Japan, he gave testimony to Lebanese prosecutors over Interpol’s Red Notice urging his arrest.
“The state prosecution issued a travel ban for Ghosn, and asked for his file from the Japanese authorities,” a judicial source said.
A second judicial source said Ghosn had been asked to hand over his French passport and had been banned from traveling abroad until his judicial file arrived from Japan.
“According to what is inside the file, if it appears that the crimes he is accused of in Japan require being pursued in Lebanon, he will be tried,” the source added.
“But if it doesn’t require being pursued under Lebanese law, then he will be free.”
‘Like North Korea’
On Thursday afternoon, Ghosn told Lebanese media the travel ban was just a “routine” measure and he had not planned to travel anyway.
He slammed as “ridiculous” a call by Japan’s justice minister for him to return to Japan to defend himself against charges of financial misconduct.
The Japanese “judicial system is completely backwards,” he told Lebanon’s LBCI television channel.
“I will fully cooperate with the Lebanese judiciary, and I’m much more comfortable with it than with the Japanese judiciary.”
In an interview with France 24 aired Thursday, Ghosn compared Japan’s justice system to that of North Korea.
“You have people who do not want you to leave”, as if you were “in North Korea, … China, or … Soviet Russia.”
“It is comparable?” the journalist asked.
“Absolutely. As soon as there is a denial of justice, it is comparable,” Ghosn responded.
Justice Minister Masako Mori earlier Thursday urged Carlos Ghosn to return and make his case in court.
“If defendant Ghosn has anything to say on his criminal case, he should make his argument in a Japanese court and present concrete evidence,” she said.
“If he claims innocence, he should face a trial under the justice system in Japan, where he was doing business,” Mori said.
Lebanon’s judiciary received a Red Notice from Interpol last week urging Ghosn’s arrest.
The notice” is a nonbinding request to police across the world to provisionally detain a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action. It is not an arrest warrant.
Japan and Lebanon don’t have an extradition agreement.
Also on Thursday, Ghosn made a statement to prosecutors on a report submitted by Lebanese lawyers that he had traveled to neighboring Israel as head of Renault-Nissan.
Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel, and forbids Lebanese from visiting or having contacts with the Jewish state.
Ghosn apologized to the Lebanese people Wednesday for having visited Israel in 2008 to sign a deal to produce electric vehicles, saying he went there on business for Renault on a French passport.
Ghosn also holds Lebanese and Brazilian nationalities.
At his first public appearance since his escape to Lebanon, he said Wednesday he had been forced to flee Japan because he would not get a fair trial.
He faces four charges of financial misconduct in Tokyo, which he alleges were cooked up by disgruntled executives at Nissan in collusion with Japanese prosecutors.
Japan’s justice minister said the claims were “baseless.”
Ghosn spent more than 100 days in detention in Japan after his sudden November 2018 arrest, but was out on bail in Tokyo when he launched his audacious escape plan. He said he decided to flee when his lawyers told him it could take five years for a verdict, and because of strict restrictions on contacting his wife.
Ghosn has refused to shed any light on how he managed to slip past authorities and flee at the end of December — an astonishing feat given his high-profile status and the restrictions he faced.