White-collar fugitive: Ex-Nissan exec named in international ‘wanted’ alert

Interpol issued a wanted notice Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in an escape that has baffled and embarrassed authorities.

Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press in an interview that Lebanon “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan may be brought in for questioning. But he said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Ghosn over to Japan.

Interpol issued what is known as a Red Notice, or a request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. A Red Notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Ghosn.

Shortly afterward, Ghosn issued a statement — his second this week — seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape.

“The allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. I alone organized my departure. My family played no role,” he said.

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn’t been seen in public since. In a statement, he said he had fled to avoid “political persecution.” Lebanese authorities have said that he entered legally on a French passport.

Ghosn’s sudden arrival in Beirut shocked Japan and confounded authorities. How he was able to flee Japan, avoiding the tight surveillance he was under while free on 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail, is still a mystery.

Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country with close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry icon, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.

Even as he fell from grace internationally, politicians across the board mobilized in his defense after his arrest in Japan, with some suggesting his detention may be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy.

Serhan said prosecutors will summon Ghosn and listen to him, and “at a later stage if there are any measures to be taken, then the precautionary measures will be taken.”

“We are a country of law and respect the law and … I can confirm that the Lebanese state will implement the law,” the justice minister said. “The prosecution will not stay cross-armed regarding this Red Notice.”

At the same time, Serhan said that Lebanon has not received an official extradition request from Japan, and he noted that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

The Hurriyet newspaper said the plane carrying Ghosn landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 29. Ghosn was not registered upon landing and was smuggled on board another plane that left for Lebanon, the paper reported.

Ghosn, who was charged in Japan with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault.

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Kageyama reported from Tokyo, Japan. Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and John Leicester in Paris contributed reporting.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Bassem Mroue is on Twitter https://twitter.com/bmroue