Fugitive ex-Nissan boss summoned by Lebanese prosecutor over Israel visit

Fugitive ex-Nissan boss summoned by Lebanese prosecutor over Israel visit

Carlos Ghosn, who escaped prosecution for financial crimes in Japan, may face charges over 2008 trip that broke local law and boycott of Jewish state

Then prime minister Ehud Olmert, center, shakes hands with Israeli investor Shai Agassi, left, and Carlos Ghosn at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Then prime minister Ehud Olmert, center, shakes hands with Israeli investor Shai Agassi, left, and Carlos Ghosn at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

A Lebanese prosecutor said Wednesday that Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss, Carlos Ghosn — who recently fled to Beirut from Japan — would be summoned later in the day over a visit to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Two Lebanese lawyers had submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office against Ghosn last week, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The countries are technically in a state of war.

Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury met Wednesday with the two lawyers who filed the case and asked them to bring additional evidence, adding he would summon Ghosn within hours.

Ghosn — who holds Lebanese, French and Brazilian citizenship — jumped bail in Tokyo last week in an operation worthy of a Hollywood plot, and arrived in his native Lebanon.

Carlos Ghosn (R) and then Israeli president Shimon Peres at a meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 21, 2008. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Ghosn visited Israel in 2008 as Renault-Nissan chairman and met officials including the prime minister and the president. The tycoon had traveled to Israel to support a partnership with Shai Agassi, an Israeli entrepreneur who had launched an ill-fated electric vehicle venture called Project Better Place.

Filing the complaint against Ghosn last week, the lawyers said several contracts had been signed during the January 2008 trip and added that Ghosn had taken part in several economic conferences.

“Doing business with Israel is not a matter of opinion — any normalization is forbidden by law,” Hassan Bazzi, one of the lawyers, told AFP.

Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn speaks at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel, which controlled the south of the country from 1982 to 2000, and forbids its citizens from traveling there.

In 2017, French-Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri was arrested and briefly questioned for filming part of his film “The Attack” in Israel.

Also Wednesday, Ghosn held a press conference, his first appearance since fleeing Japan in a high-risk operation. He described his arrest as a plot against him and his detention conditions as a “travesty” against human rights.

Ghosn was defensive as he held the news conference in Beirut. He said the decision to escape the country, where he was due to stand trial for alleged financial misconduct at the automaker, “was the most difficult of my life.”

The former auto industry titan dismissed all allegations against him as untrue, saying “I should never have been arrested in the first place.”

“I’m not above the law and I welcome the opportunity for the truth to come out and have my name cleared,” he told a packed room of journalists.

Ghosn smuggled himself from Tokyo to Beirut in late December, arriving in the Lebanese capital where he grew up and is regarded by many as a national hero.

Ghosn’s daring and improbable escape has perplexed and embarrassed Japanese authorities after he skipped bail and managed to flee the country despite supposedly rigorous surveillance.

Media reports have said that he left his residence alone, met two men at a Tokyo hotel, and then took a bullet train to Osaka before boarding a private jet, hidden inside a case for musical equipment. He flew to Istanbul and was then transferred onto another plane bound for Beirut, where he arrived December 30.

On Wednesday, Ghosn portrayed his arrest as a plot linked to a decline in the financial performance of Nissan. Ghosn had been in favor of merging Nissan with industry ally Renault, of which he was also chairman.

“Unfortunately there was no trust. And some of our Japanese friends thought that the only way to get rid of Renault in Nissan is to get rid of me,” he said.

This March, 2019, file photo shows former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, right, and his wife Carole in Tokyo. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

Earlier in the day, Tokyo prosecutors raided a Japanese lawyer’s office where Ghosn had visited regularly before he fled. Japanese media reports said prosecutors had likely seized the computer to track down how Ghosn escaped and who might have helped him.

Lebanese authorities have said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, casting doubt on the possibility they would hand him over to Japan. Lebanon last week received an Interpol-issued wanted notice — a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive.

Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, and the Interpol notice does not require Lebanon to arrest him.

Ghosn was expected to go on trial in Tokyo in April. In statements, he has said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system.” He also said that he alone organized his departure from Japan and that his wife, Carole, played no role.

On Tuesday, Tokyo prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Carole Ghosn on suspicion of perjury. That charge is not related to his escape. Lebanon’s justice minister said Tuesday that Lebanon has not received any request related to that warrant.

Japanese justice officials acknowledge that it’s unclear whether the Ghosns can be brought back to Japan to face charges.

Ghosn’s former employer, Nissan Motor Co., said it was still pursuing legal action against him despite his escape, adding that Ghosn engaged in serious misconduct while leading the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance. Ghosn denies all the charges.

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