Lebanon Would Probe Ghosn Allegations If Japan Sought Return

(Bloomberg) --

Lebanon’s caretaker justice minister said the country would probe the allegations against Carlos Ghosn if Japan seeks the return of the fallen automotive titan.

Albert Sarhan, the outgoing minister, said in an interview that a request for custody of the executive following his dramatic escape from the Japanese legal system would be turned down and the matter referred to the judiciary in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.

The prospect of a trial in Lebanon, where Ghosn is still regarded by many as a national hero, could mark a turn in fortune for the former head of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA. He has Lebanese, French and Brazilian passports -- which were confiscated by the Japanese authorities -- and has appeared on postage stamps in Lebanon. Shortly after his arrest in Tokyo in November 2018 on charges of financial misconduct, a Beirut billboard proclaimed: “We are all Carlos Ghosn.”

“Usually, the decision that would be taken in response to a return request: First, we reject the request made for that person, and secondly we refer them to the public prosecution” or the judiciary, said Sarhan. “We probe the accusations out of respect for other countries.”

Lebanon Would Probe Ghosn Allegations If Japan Sought Return

The state-run National News Agency reported Thursday that Lebanon’s public prosecutor had received an Interpol red notice on Ghosn. The notice obliges the Lebanese authorities to question Ghosn on the allegations. Separately, Japan is expected to contact Lebanon through diplomatic channels, an official said Wednesday in Tokyo.

Earlier Thursday, Kyodo reported in Tokyo that Japanese prosecutors searched the house where Ghosn stayed while on bail.

Lebanon Would Probe Ghosn Allegations If Japan Sought Return

Lebanon has made several requests to move the Ghosn trial to Beirut, most recently when President Michel Aoun met with Japanese officials in December.

Officials in Lebanon say Ghosn entered the country legally from Turkey, using his national identity card. Sarhan said the executive’s stay is “so far” legitimate, pending developments. Lebanon has been following up on Ghosn’s case through his lawyer since the arrest and sought to provide help through legal channels, he said.

Mystery still surrounds Ghosn’s escape. The executive, once lionized in Japan for turning around Nissan from years of losses, said in an emailed statement Tuesday he was fleeing the country’s “rigged” justice system, where courts have a conviction rate close to 100%. He plans to hold a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday, but his current whereabouts are unknown.

For months, Ghosn’s attorneys have been arguing that all of the charges against their client were bogus, the result of a broad conspiracy among nationalistic Nissan officials, Japanese prosecutors and the government itself.

Lebanon Would Probe Ghosn Allegations If Japan Sought Return

The goal, according to Ghosn, was to smear him in order to prevent the executive from further integrating Nissan and France’s Renault, a plan that threatened the Japanese carmaker’s autonomy and was vehemently opposed in the highest echelons of Tokyo officialdom.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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