The past few days have been filled with drama for one of the auto industry’s most well-known executives. Carlos Ghosn used to run the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, a complicated partnership-not-a-merger between the three car makers that sells more metal than everyone other than Toyota and Volkswagen Group. But in November 2018, he was arrested by Japanese police on charges of financial misconduct and was replaced as the head of both Nissan and Mitsubishi.
However, Ghosn claimed that he was being set up by rivals at Nissan, who he said were behind claims that he pocketed payments to Middle Eastern car dealerships and hid income beyond his multimillion dollar annual salary. After spending more than three months in jail, Ghosn was released on bail—a hefty $9 million (1 billion yen)—but was kept under house arrest.
Rather than continuing to submit to the Japanese criminal justice system—which has a near-perfect conviction rate, sharing few of the same protections for suspects that exist in the US or Europe—Ghosn apparently decided a change of scenery was in order. Which is where it all gets a bit weird. Late on the night of December 29, he managed to flee the country for Lebanon; he holds Lebanese (as well as French and Brazilian) citizenship and is close with the Lebanese government, which does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.
On New Year’s Eve, Ghosn issued a statement from Lebanon saying that 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, in flagrant disregard of Japan’s legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold.”
The Japanese authorities are still trying to determine just how Ghosn managed to evade their surveillance. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Ghosn had two French passports, and the courts allowed him to keep one of them in a locked case rather than having it held by his lawyers (along with the Lebanese, Brazilian, and that other French passport). For their part, Lebanese authorities say he entered the country legally under a French passport.
Initial reports that he had been hiding in a box meant to contain musical instruments for a band that played at his house are apparently wide of the mark. Instead, it’s more likely that he was smuggled onto a private cargo jet in Osaka, bound for Istanbul, Turkey. The Turks aren’t particularly happy about being involved and have arrested four pilots, two ground handlers, and the operations manager of the cargo company for their involvement in the escape.
Now, Interpol has issued a “red notice” for Ghosn, who released a second statement on Thursday stating that his escape was all his doing and that neither his wife nor other family members were involved.