By Samia Nakhoul and Kiyoshi Takenaka
BEIRUT/TOKYO (Reuters) – Lebanon received an Interpol arrest warrant on Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, while Turkey launched an investigation into his daring escape from Japan via Istanbul.
Ghosn has become an international fugitive after he revealed on Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged” justice system in Japan, where he faces charges relating to alleged financial crimes.
Sources close to Ghosn said a delay to a trial and a strict ban on communicating with his wife motivated him to go ahead with a plan to use a private security company to smuggle him out of Japan via private jet.
The Interpol red notice, which calls on authorities to arrest a wanted person, was received by Lebanon’s internal security forces and has yet to be referred to the judiciary, a Lebanese judicial source told Reuters.
A senior Lebanese security official said it was not yet clear if Ghosn would be summoned for questioning over the warrant but said Lebanon does not extradite its citizens to foreign states.
In past cases in which Lebanon has received red notices for Lebanese citizens resident in the country, the suspects have not been detained but their passports have been confiscated and bail has been set, the judicial source said.
Ghosn holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship. He has deep ties to Lebanon, the country of his childhood, where his investments include a stake in a bank, real estate and a vineyard.
Sources close to Ghosn said he met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun shortly after arriving to Beirut and was greeted warmly, though the presidency denied such a meeting took place.
Speaking to broadcaster MTV, caretaker defense minister Elias Bou Saab said Lebanon played no official role in Ghosn’s exit from Japan.
Turkish police on Thursday detained seven people, including four pilots, as part of an investigation into Ghosn’s passage through the country, a police spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman said the other detainees were two airport ground staff and one cargo worker, and all seven were expected to give statements in court on Thursday.
Flight tracking data suggests Ghosn used two different planes to fly to Istanbul and then to Lebanon.
The sources close to Ghosn said he was prompted to flee after a recent court session in which he learned that the second of two trials would be delayed until April 2021.
“They said they needed another whole year to prepare for it. … He was distressed about not being able to see or speak to his wife,” one of the sources close to Ghosn said.
A request to see or speak to his wife over Christmas was also denied, the sources added, part of strict conditions set on his bail.
The sources said Ghosn had grown distressed that authorities were pressuring his family to draw a confession from him after his daughter and son were questioned by Japanese prosecutors in the United States in early December.
In just his second public comment since landing in Beirut, Ghosn said in a statement his family played no role whatsoever in his exit from Japan.
“I alone arranged for my departure,” he said.
Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018 and faces four charges for alleged financial crimes including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to car dealerships in the Middle East. He denies the charges.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said on Thursday Japanese authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, potentially shedding some light on how he managed to escape despite having passports held by Japanese lawyers.
No one was immediately available for comment at the office of Ghosn’s lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, at the French embassy in Tokyo, or at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.
Nissan ousted him as chairman, saying internal investigations revealed misconduct including 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.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Laila Bassam and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Eric Knecht/Tom Perry; Editing by David Dolan, Jane Merriman, Giles Elgood, William Maclean and Will Dunham)