Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan while under house arrest by hiding in a musical instrument case in a plan masterminded by his wife, a Lebanese TV news channel claims.
The 65-year-old reportedly dodged police surveillance at his Tokyo home with the help of a team of ex-special forces soldiers disguised as a Gregorian music band.
He was then flown to Beirut via Turkey on Monday where he was joined by his Lebanese wife Carole who is said to have coordinated the elaborate escape plot.
Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports, said in a statement that he fled to ‘escape injustice’ in Japan, where he was on bail facing financial misconduct charges.
Strict conditions of his £10.5m bail included being prevented from seeing his wife without the permission of the court and for the past seven months they have been unable to speak to each at all.
Lebanese news channel MTV reported that a ‘paramilitary group’ had posed as musicians hired to perform at Ghosn’s home, believed to be a £2.7million penthouse apartment, during a dinner party.
Carlos Ghosn was ‘smuggled out of Japan’ in a plot allegedly masterminded by his wife Carole (right). The couple are pictured here at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018 at the screening of Ash Is The Purest White.
Ghosn is accused of using £14million of Nissan cash to buy homes in Paris, Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Amsterdam. Pictured is the plush interior of his £2.7million Tokyo apartment
The full details are not known, but there was speculation that 5ft 6in Ghosn squeezed himself into a 6ft long double bass case at the end of the performance.
He was then taken to a small local airport and flown to Istanbul, in Turkey, in a private plane, MTV said.
From there it is believed he boarded a Bombardier Challenger private jet to Beirut-Rafic Hariri international airport where it landed shortly after 4am on Monday, according to plane tracking site FlightRadar.
Ricardo Karam, a Lebanese television host and friend of Ghosn, said: ‘He is home. It’s a big adventure.’
Ghosn is accused of using £14million of Nissan cash to buy homes in Paris, Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Amsterdam as well as a £2.7million penthouse apartment in Tokyo.
Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn (pictured last year) said he had fled to Lebanon to escape injustice in Japan, where he was on bail awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges
Ghosn owns the penthouse apartment in this exclusive block in Tokyo
MTV reported: ‘The band entered his home in Japan under the guise of a band for a Gregorian dinner, then returned and exited after the party’s logical time had passed.
‘The Japanese authorities did not know at the time that Carlos Ghosn had hidden in one of the boxes intended for the transfer of musical instruments, and then left the country through a local airport.’
The claims were swiftly picked up by media outlets around the world but were denied by a member of his entourage.
Ghosn’s lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was ‘surprised and baffled’ by reports of the escape all three of his passports had been confiscated.
He said: ‘It would have been difficult for him to do this without the assistance of some large organisation.
‘I want to ask him, “How could he do this to us?” I wanted to prove he was innocent.
‘But when I saw his statement in the press, I thought he doesn’t trust Japan’s courts.’
The auto tycoon’s abrupt departure was the latest twist in a rollercoaster journey that saw him fall from boardroom to detention centre and it sparked questions over an embarrassing security lapse in Japan.
His bail conditions barred him from exiting the country he had been held in since his sudden arrest in November 2018 sent shockwaves through the business world.
He and his lawyers have repeatedly voiced fears a fair trial would be impossible in Japan and have called for the case to be thrown out, citing missteps by the prosecutors’ office.
Lebanese media reported Ghosn had flown by private plane from Turkey to Lebanon, where his parents were born and where he spent most of his childhood after arriving there as a toddler.
A source in the Lebanese Presidency said Ghosn had entered the country from Turkey with a French passport and his Lebanese identity card.
‘He is in Lebanon in his house with his wife,’ a family friend told AFP. ‘He is very happy. He is free.’
Carlos Ghosn’s attorney Junichiro Hironaka addresses the media as he heads to his office in Tokyo on Tuesday
A house identified by court documents as belonging to former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn in a wealthy neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital Beirut
In a brief statement on Tuesday, the 65-year-old tycoon said he would ‘no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system, where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.’
‘I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution,’ said Ghosn.
‘I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.’
Born in Brazil of Lebanese ancestry, Ghosn grew up in Beirut and has retained close ties to Lebanon.
A member of the Lebanese security forces leaves from a door of the house identified by court documents as belonging to Ghosn in a wealthy neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday
People walk past a house that is believed to belong to Carlos Ghosn on Tuesday
French junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said on Tuesday that she was ‘very surprised’ by news that Carlos Ghosn had left Japan and flown to Lebanon, adding she had heard of it via the media.
Pannier-Runacher also told France Inter radio that, regarding Ghosn, no-one was above the law but Ghosn would be able to get French consular support as a French citizen.
The Japanese lawyer for former auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn, Junichiro Hironaka, leaves after a press briefing outside his office on December 31
Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn pictured in 2012. In a statement on Tuesday, the 65-year-old tycoon said he would ‘no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system, where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied’
Many Lebanese view Ghosn as a symbol of their country’s large diaspora, and a prime example of Lebanese entrepreneurial genius and have been shocked by his arrest.
But in Tokyo, the unexpected turn of events will spark questions about how he could apparently have given authorities the slip.
His Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was ‘dumbfounded’ by the news and confirmed that lawyers were still in possession of Ghosn’s passports.
‘I don’t even know if we can contact him. I don’t know how we will proceed beyond that,’ Hironaka told reporters.
Public broadcaster NHK cited a foreign ministry official as saying: ‘He was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities.’
Taichiro Motoe, a lawmaker from Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), said the news had come as a ‘shock.’
‘There have been so many flight cases in 2019 by criminally accused individuals on bail and by those facing imprisonment after their crimes have been confirmed,’ said Motoe, calling for ‘swift and effective’ improvements.
His sudden departure from Japan is nearly as dramatic as his arrest out of the blue at a Tokyo airport.
Prosecutors stormed his private jet in scenes captured by a local paper, and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions far removed from his sometimes extravagant lifestyle.
He eventually won bail, striding out of the detention centre disguised in a workman’s uniform complete with mask and cap in an apparent bid to fool the world’s media camped outside.
Then one morning in April, he was rearrested on another set of charges just days before he was due to give a hotly anticipated news conference.
He released a video apparently pre-recorded in which he accused ‘backstabbing’ Nissan executives of a ‘conspiracy’.
Prosecutors stormed his private jet in scenes captured by a local paper, and whisked him off to a Tokyo detention centre where he spent more than 100 days in spartan conditions far removed from his sometimes extravagant lifestyle (pictured in 2017)
Later that month, he was released again on bail – this time leaving in a business suit – and he had been in Tokyo ever since preparing for his trial in ‘combative’ mood, according to his lawyers.
He stands accused of two counts of under-reporting his salary to the tune of 9.23 billion yen ($85 million) from 2010 to 2018, deferring some of his pay and failing to declare this to shareholders.
Prosecutors also allege he attempted to get Nissan to cover around 1.85 billion yen in personal foreign exchange losses during the 2008 financial crisis.
The fourth charge against him is that he allegedly transferred millions from Nissan funds to a dealership in Oman, from which the executive supposedly skimmed off $5 million for his personal use.
He has consistently denied all charges against him, saying they are a ‘plot’ by Nissan executives to get rid of him because they feared he was moving the Japanese firm to a closer tie-up with Renault.
In the meantime, Ghosn has lost the business empire he was once lauded for creating. Sacked from Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, he resigned from Renault – the third firm in the uneasy car alliance he forged.