BEIRUT – Lebanon's president on Monday suggested to visiting Japanese deputy justice minister that Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss Carlos Ghosn won't be extradited back to Japan and remains in the hands of Lebanon's judiciary, according to a presidential statement. The Japanese official said Ghosn should stand trial in Japan.
Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan to his ancestral homeland of Lebanon late last year despite supposedly rigorous surveillance. He had jumped $14 million bail to evade charges of financial misconduct that could carry a jail sentence of up to 15 years.
Ghosn, who led Nissan for nearly 20 years, says he is innocent and that he fled Japan in the belief he could not get a fair trial there.
Hiroyuki Yoshiie, Japan's deputy justice minister, met Monday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the ministers of justice and foreign affairs.
Ghosn was arrested in Japan in late 2018 and is facing charges there of under-reporting income and breach of trust.
A statement released by Aoun's office said the president told Yoshiie that Lebanon repeatedly sent letters to Japan regarding Ghosn's case while he was under arrest, without getting any official response.
The president stressed the two country's had no extradition treaty, and added that Ghosn entered Lebanon legally through its international airport using his French passport and a Lebanese identity card.
Lebanese prosecutors issued a travel ban for Ghosn in January and asked him to hand in his French passport, following an Interpol-issued notice against him.
Yoshiie gave a measured response to journalists' questions about whether Japan was officially asking for Ghosn's extradition, during a press conference Monday at the Japanese Embassy following the meetings.
"He should be obviously tried in Japan and this is something we want to emphasize," he said in Japanese, as his comments were simultaneously translated into English.
He said he'd explained Tokyo's views on Ghosn's flight from Japan and was “able to gain understanding of the Lebanese government.” He said Tokyo and Beirut have "agreed to cooperate with each other,” but did not elaborate on the extent of that cooperation.
On Friday, Japan's Justice Minister Masako Mori said she was dispatching Yoshiie to Beirut to explain the Japanese criminal justice system and improve cooperation.
Ghosn had made his first public appearance in Lebanon in early January saying he fled a “nightmare” and vowed to defend his name wherever he can get a fair trial.
Nissan, maker of the Leaf electric car and Z sports car, said in a statement regarding the justice official’s trip that it hoped Ghosn would return to Japan to stand trial, “so that all the facts can be properly established under Japan’s judicial system.”
Nissan’s sales have plunged recently, and the brand is widely considered to have been tarnished by the controversy around Ghosn.