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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Banned from leaving Lebanon, Ghosn submits passport

Ex-Nissan chairman battles for public support with media blitz

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves after delivering a news conference at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut on Jan. 8.   © Reuters

BEIRUT/TOKYO -- A Lebanese judge barred Carlos Ghosn from traveling abroad during a court hearing Thursday, with the former Nissan Motor chairman agreeing to submit his French passport to authorities, sources told Nikkei.

The ban is based on a "red notice" issued by Interpol at the request of the Japanese government. It conveys to the world that the fugitive ex-executive is wanted by Tokyo.

The order was issued likely out of consideration to the Japanese government, which has been lobbying Beirut to extradite Ghosn so he can stand trial on charges of financial misconduct. Few believe, however, that Beirut will actually hand the 65-year-old over to Tokyo. Beirut has maintained that Ghosn entered Lebanon legally.

The travel ban will be effective until Lebanon receives documents from Japan over Ghosn's indictment and makes a decision on their contents, a source said.

"It is not a surprise for me. My lawyer told me this was going to happen," Ghosn told France 24 in an interview Thursday. "I am collaborating with the Lebanese justice to make sure that ... the procedure follows as smoothly as possible."

The red notice is not an international arrest warrant and carries no binding power, but could pose a risk for Ghosn if he travels to another country. 

For the ex-chairman, it will be crucial to win over public opinion in countries where he has strong connections. In Wednesday's news conference in Beirut, Ghosn gave precedence to media from France, Lebanon and Brazil, the three countries where he has citizenship, answering in each country's language, in a bid to make his case to their respective audiences.

An online poll by French newspaper Le Figaro showed that about 60% of its readers said they were satisfied with Ghosn's explanations at the news conference.

Carlos Ghosn's lawyer speaks to the media after the former Nissan chairman's questioning, outside the Justice Palace in Beirut on Jan. 9.   © Reuters

Ghosn has been on a media blitz, giving interviews to CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, France 24 and local Lebanese media, among others.

On the Lebanese channel LBCI, Ghosn called comments by Japan's Justice Minister Masako Mori "ridiculous." Mori had said that Ghosn's allegations in his news conference were not backed up by evidence.

In his Wednesday news conference, his first since his arrest in late 2018, Ghosn pointed many fingers but did not provide major revelations regarding the alleged financial misconduct that led to his downfall.

Ghosn categorically denied all charges brought by Tokyo prosecutors, over the more-than-two-hour event. He defended the $14.7 million paid by a Nissan unit to his Saudi associate as fair compensation for his work, showing reporters what is believed to be an internal financial document from Nissan with various signatures.

"There is not one dollar paid from CEO reserve with my signature alone. You have all these people signing on," he said, pointing to signatures by other executives.

Nissan has been cooperating with prosecutors, providing information regarding Ghosn's alleged improprieties uncovered through a secret internal probe. The move stemmed in part from dissatisfaction among certain executives over a merger proposal with Renault.

"Some of our Japanese friends thought the only way to get rid of the influence of Renault on Nissan is to get rid of me," Ghosn said. He named former Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and several others as the masterminds behind what he called a "coup."

"What evidence does he have about this coup?" Saikawa said in response. He said the merger with Renault and the investigation into Ghosn were unrelated.

"We can't rule out that there was a coup-like element to what happened within Nissan," said attorney Motokazu Endo, an expert in corporate governance. "But that is a separate matter from determining legal responsibility for actions strongly suspected to be illegal, and it does not absolve Ghosn from responsibility."

Ghosn said he fled to Lebanon because he believed he would not receive a fair trial in Japan. He said the Japanese justice system was inhumane, adding that it had a 99.4% conviction rate, he would have to wait for five years to receive judgment, and that he was prevented from seeing his wife.

He also said he was interrogated for eight hours a day without a lawyer present, and showed a list of alleged inappropriate conduct by prosecutors.

The Tokyo prosecutor's office rejected his claims in a statement, saying Ghosn was only interrogated for about 70 of the about 130 days he was in detention, for less than four hours each time on average.

The office said Ghosn met with his lawyers for about two hours almost everyday except Sundays, and "was able to receive legal counsel." It added that there were video and audio recordings of the interrogations.

"Each country sets laws for its criminal justice system based on its sovereignty," said Tsukasa Saito, a legal professor at Ryukoku University. "Parts of the former chairman's arguments are understandable, but fleeing abroad from a trial is a problem."

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