Ousted Renault-Nissan boss Ghosn leaves Japan for Lebanon

PARIS (Reuters) – Carlos Ghosn, the ousted boss of the Renault-Nissan (RENA.PA) (7201.T) carmaking alliance who was awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, flew into Lebanon on Monday evening, several newspapers reported.

FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention House in Tokyo, Japan, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

France’s Les Echos newspaper cited an unidentified source and a report in Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour, but there was no immediate confirmation from official sources. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times said Ghosn had fled Japan.

Ghosn’s attorney did not have an immediate comment, but a person close to Ghosn who asked not to be identified confirmed he was in Beirut as of Monday. A Nissan spokesman in Tokyo declined to comment. Tokyo prosecutors and officials at the Lebanese embassy in Tokyo could not be reached to comment.

It was unclear how Ghosn, who holds both French and Lebanese citizenship, would have been able to leave Japan, where he has been under strict court-imposed restrictions on his movements.

The Financial Times said Ghosn was no longer under house arrest, but said it was not clear whether he had escaped or a deal had been reached. Ghosn landed at Beirut’s Rafic al-Hariri international airport late on Sunday, the paper said, citing an associate of Ghosn.

The Journal cited people familiar with the matter saying Ghosn had fled Japan, arriving on Monday. One unidentified person told the newspaper Ghosn did not believe he would get a fair trial there and was “tired of being an industrial political hostage.”

Ghosn is expected to hold a press conference in Lebanon in the coming days, the Journal said.

Ghosn’s movements and communications had been closely monitored and restricted to prevent his fleeing the country and tampering with evidence, the Tokyo District court previously said.

Ghosn was arrested at a Tokyo airport shortly after his private jet touched down on Nov. 19, 2018. He faces four charges – which he denies – including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East.

Nissan sacked the once-lauded Ghosn, saying its internal investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $5 million of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.

Brazilian-born, of Lebanese descent and a French citizen, Ghosn began his career in 1978 at tiremaker Michelin. He moved to Renault in 1996, where he oversaw a turnaround at the French automaker that won him the nickname “Le Cost Killer.”

After Renault sealed an alliance with Nissan in 1999, Ghosn used similar methods to revive the ailing Japanese brand, leading to “business superstar” status in Japan, blanket media coverage and even a manga comic book on his life.

Since his arrest, Ghosn has said he is the victim of a boardroom coup, accusing former Nissan colleagues of “backstabbing,” describing them as selfish rivals bent on derailing a closer alliance between the Japanese automaker and Renault, its top shareholder.

Ghosn’s lawyers have asked a court to dismiss all charges against him. They accuse prosecutors of colluding with government officials and Nissan executives to oust him to block any takeover of the automaker by French alliance partner Renault, of which Ghosn was also chairman.

After his arrest, Ghosn spent a long period in detention, but more recently was allowed out, subject to stringent bail conditions, which required him to stay in Japan.

Reporting by Christian Lowe and Nicolas Delame; additional reporting by Timothy Kelly and Kevin Buckland in Tokyo, Eric Knecht in Beirut, Ben Klayman in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Richard Pullin

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