Lebanon imposes travel ban on Carlos Ghosn

Former Nissan boss was questioned by Lebanese prosecutors on Thursday

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Lebanon imposed a travel ban on Carlos Ghosn, the fugitive former boss of Nissan, after he was questioned by prosecutors on Thursday over an Interpol warrant issued by Japan seeking his arrest on financial misconduct charges.

Mr Ghosn, 65, fled to Lebanon last month while awaiting trial in Japan on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds. The executive denies all the charges.

Mr Ghosn was “in very good dispositions” during the hearing on Thursday, his Lebanese lawyer Carlos Abou Jaoude told reporters. “He is very happy. He feels that he is in front of courts that will allow him to prove his innocence. He is comfortable.” Mr Abou Jaoude said the travel ban was a “technical measure”.

In his first public appearance since arriving in Lebanon on December 30, Mr Ghosn blasted the Japanese judicial system on Wednesday, saying that he believed it conspired with Nissan to arrest him on false charges.

During a press conference at the Lebanese Journalists’ Syndicate headquarters in Beirut, Mr Ghosn said that he “should never have been arrested in the first place,” arguing that he was “innocent” and that could prove it. “I started [obtaining] many documents and there are more documents to come.”

The former businessman turned international fugitive described the 130 days he spent in prison in Japan in solitary confinement as difficult. “I felt like I was dead,” he said. “When I got out it felt like I was coming back to life.”

Mr Ghosn stressed that he did not agree with the widespread perception among legal professionals in Lebanon that the judiciary is not independent and closely controlled by politicians.

Shortly after his press conference, Tokyo prosecutors slammed Mr Ghosn’s comments, accusing him of “one-sided” and “unacceptable” criticism of Japan’s legal system. They rejected his claims that they had colluded with Nissan as “categorically false and contrary to fact”.

On Thursday, Lebanese State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat also made an official request to Japan to send him Mr Ghosn’s legal file for examination.

Many questions remain regarding Mr Ghosn’s mysterious escape from Japan, which he refused to address during his press conference.

On Wednesday, Turkish police confirmed previous media reports that he flew from Japan to Turkey hidden in a large case normally used for musical instruments.

The police said Mr Ghosn disembarked from the plane on foot and was driven to another aircraft that left immediately for Beirut. Five people have been under arrest in Turkey since January 3 over the escape.

Mr Ghosn, who holds Lebanese, Brazilian and French citizenship, has received widespread public support in Lebanon, his childhood home, since he was first arrested by Japanese prosecutors in late 2018.

During his press conference, he noted that the three countries do not extradite their citizens which meant it was unlikely he would be forcibly returned to Japan. On Tuesday, Japan also issued an arrest warrant against his Lebanese wife Carole for allegedly giving false testimony during a court hearing last April.

However, Mr Ghosn’s perceived attempt to evade corruption charges has drawn some sarcasm in a country that witnessed widespread anti-government protests since October.

“Carlos Ghosn transformed himself from victim to an upholder of the law … Appointing him Energy Minister instead of the current scum would be a good idea,” Druze leader Walid Jumblatt tweeted on Thursday. Lebanon has been without a government since October 29.

The former businessman was also interrogated by Lebanese prosecutors about his trip to Israel in 2008 during which he met the then president Shimon Peres and prime minister Ehud Olmert to sign a deal for the production of electric cars.

The visit breaches domestic law because Lebanon and Israel never signed a peace treaty after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and it is forbidden for Lebanese citizens to visit Israel or communicate with Israelis. Three Lebanese lawyers filed a request seeking charges against Mr Ghosn on January 2, shortly after his arrival in Lebanon.

“I did not go to Israel as a Lebanese citizen but as director general of Renault,” Mr Ghosn said during his press conference on Wednesday, insinuating that the charges were politically motivated. “Why was this complaint lodged now? Who has interest in this?” he asked.

Lawyer Ayman Raad, who is not involved in Mr Ghosn's case, told The National that now that Mr Ghosn had been heard by a Lebanese judge, "it's now up to the general prosecutor to press charges or not".