Fugitive ex-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn says he fled Japan to escape 'injustice'

Key Points
  • Carlos Ghosn, the ousted chairman of Japanese automaker Nissan, said in a statement on Tuesday that he's left Japan and is now in Lebanon.
  • Ghosn was awaiting trial on criminal charges in Japan.
  • Ghosn entered Lebanon legally and will not face any legal consequences, Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security said on Tuesday, according to the state news agency NNA.
Trying to figure out how Carlos Ghosn escaped from Japan and landed in Lebanon
Trying to figure out how Carlos Ghosn escaped from Japan and landed in Lebanon

Under house arrest and 24-hour surveillance, ousted Nissan chairman became an international fugitive when he reportedly hid inside a large musical instrument case Sunday and smuggled himself out of Japan to flee criminal prosecution there.

Ghosn's wife, Carole, whom he hasn't seen since his arrest more than a year ago, orchestrated his dramatic escape, according to The Guardian. He was aided by a band of Gregorian musicians, who were hired to perform at a dinner party at his home in Tokyo, and a team of former special forces officers, the paper reported, citing Lebanese TV news channel MTV for some of the details.

After the performance, Ghosn tucked himself inside one of the cases, which was transported to a small local airport, where a private plane took him to Istanbul, Turkey, the British paper reported. The Guardian said he appears to have boarded a Bombardier Challenger private jet bound for Lebanon, where he arrived before dawn on Monday.

The Brazil-born auto titan was raised in Beirut and is a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon. As a citizen, he's protected from extradition from Lebanon. Local authorities said he legally entered the country and wouldn't face any repercussions, according to local media reports.

Ghosn was a giant in the auto industry. A dynamic executive credited with turning around the Japanese manufacturer, Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 and charged with multiple financial misdeeds while running Nissan. He and his wife have maintained his innocence and fought for his release from the Japanese justice system over the past year.

"I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week," Ghosn said in a statement confirming his arrival in Lebanon.

He said he will "no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan's legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold."

Carlos Ghosn flees house arrest in Japan, lands in Lebanon
Carlos Ghosn flees house arrest in Japan, lands in Lebanon

Ghosn's lead attorney in Japan, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters that he was "surprised and baffled" by his client's escape, the Financial Times reported.

Hironaka said his legal team still held all of Ghosn's passports and last saw him on Christmas Day with an agreement to meet Jan. 7 to discuss his upcoming trial, according to the Financial Times.

"If this [escape] is true, we have to assume that this is a breach of bail conditions," Hironaka said. "His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan's justice system."

Carlos Ghosn, former chairman of Nissan Motor Co., leaves his lawyer's office in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
Toru Hanai | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Japan's Ministry of Justice didn't immediately reply to CNBC's request for comment on Ghosn's statement.

Lebanese media said that Ghosn arrived in the country by private jet from Turkey and the newspaper Annahar reported that caretaker State Minister Salim Jreissati said he entered with a French passport, according to Bloomberg.

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber tweeted on Tuesday that "Beirut sources saying [Ghosn] hid in a box designed for a musical instrument."


The last time Carole Ghosn saw her husband was the day of his second arrest in April when a team of 20 Japanese prosecutors stormed the couple's apartment in Tokyo at 5:50 a.m. and hauled him away.

"They checked everything. They took pictures of everything,"

Carole Ghosn later told CNBC in September that the upcoming criminal trial in Japan against her husband shows a "dark side" of the nation and bias against foreign executives.

"I think my husband doesn't look like is going to get a fair trial, the way they are behaving, the way that they are treating him compared to Japanese like [former Nissan CEO Hiroto] Saikawa."

The former Nissan chairman was ousted and arrested a little over a year ago after Saikawa, who was CEO at the time, accused him and another executive of a litany of financial misdeeds.

Members of Lebanon's security forces stand at the parking gate of the house identified by court documents as belonging to former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn in a wealthy neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital Beirut on December 31, 2019.
Anwar Amro | AFP | Getty Images

Saikawa abruptly resigned in September after an internal investigation found that he also allegedly pocketed excess pay. Nissan accused Ghosn and former Director Greg Kelly of concealing more than $327 million in payments to themselves and other executives — $187 million in nondisclosed compensation and $140 million in improper expenditures, according to a five-page summary of Nissan's internal investigation released in September.

Ghosn was subsequently removed from his positions at French automaker Renault and the fragile Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance.

Saikawa was allowed to resign in September after an internal investigation found that he received improper payments that weren't disclosed to shareholders.

— CNBC's Dawn Kopecki, Michael Wayland, Ganesh Setty and Riya Bhattacharjee contributed to this report.