BEIRUT/TOKYO/PARIS (Financial Times) -- Lebanon pressed for Carlos Ghosn's return one week before the former Nissan chairman escaped from Tokyo to Beirut with the help of private security operatives, who had been planning his flight for months.
Lebanon's efforts to secure his return became more apparent as it emerged that preparations had begun in October and involved a team of hired professionals, according to people with knowledge of the details. Ghosn flew out of Osaka airport on a private jet, after evading round-the-clock surveillance by Tokyo prosecutors and overcoming the seizure of his passports.
Although Lebanese authorities formulated the request a year ago, they renewed it during a visit to Beirut by Keisuke Suzuki, Japan's state minister for foreign affairs, on Dec. 20, when the issue was discussed at the end of a meeting with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun. The request was backed at the highest level and is likely to intensify questions over the support Ghosn has received from Lebanon in the run-up to his escape.
Ghosn's flight to his mother's native country means he will avoid standing trial in Tokyo, where he faces charges of financial misconduct relating to his time as head of the Nissan-Renault carmakers' alliance.
The trial, which may not have begun until the autumn, could have dragged on for several years. A day after arriving in Lebanon, Ghosn insisted he was not fleeing justice, but had "escaped injustice and political persecution" in Japan.
A person close to the Ghosn family said that the private security operatives hired by Ghosn had split into several teams operating in different countries. Preparations were assisted by Japanese supporters of Ghosn, said two people familiar with the situation.
Ghosn's wife, Carole, who is also Lebanese, is known to have been lobbying the Lebanese government for diplomatic help.
Lebanon's Justice Ministry requested Ghosn's return -- and for him to be tried in Lebanon -- soon after his arrest last year, according to a Lebanese official who added that Tokyo did not respond at the time.
Ghadi Khoury, the Lebanese foreign ministry's director of political affairs, said Lebanon "had asked for [Ghosn's] extradition." He denied that the government had been involved in Ghosn's escape plans. Another Beirut official said the timing of the latest request was coincidental.
Khoury added that Ghosn had entered the country on a French passport and Lebanese ID.
A spokesperson for Ghosn in Paris confirmed he used a valid French passport to enter Lebanon but would not say how he had left Japan. France's foreign ministry declined to comment on whether Ghosn used a French passport, saying it did not know the circumstances of his departure.
Ghosn's escape has caused embarrassment for Japan's Ministry of Justice and will probably renew criticism of the Tokyo District Court's decision to grant Ghosn bail, said one Japanese official.
Ghosn had paid a total of 1.5 billion yen ($13.8 million) to the court and submitted to conditions including allowing cameras to record both his and any visitors' movements to and from the house. He was not permitted to meet his wife. However, he was not required to wear any electronic tags.
Prosecutors argued against bail, describing Ghosn as a clear flight risk. Within Nissan, the carmaker he ran for almost 20 years, senior staff said that they were baffled that Ghosn had been given bail given his wealth, his global network of associates and properties and his knowledge of private jet terminals.