Japan seeks arrest of Ghosn, Americans suspected of helping

Finance and Business

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn speaks to Japanese media during an interview in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. A lawyer for Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s former chairman who skipped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon, on Friday slammed a gaffe by the Japanese justice minister who said that Ghosn should “prove” his innocence. Ghosn, who was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges, fled Tokyo and appeared in Beirut Dec. 30. (Meika Fujio/Kyodo News via AP)

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TOKYO (AP) — An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who skipped bail while awaiting trial in Japan and is now in Lebanon.

Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon, so there is little chance for his arrest. Lebanon indicated earlier this month that it will not hand over Ghosn.

Tokyo prosecutors also issued arrest warrants for three Americans they said helped and planned his escape, Michael Taylor, George Zayek and Peter Taylor.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor Takahiro Saito declined to say where the three men were thought to be located. He said Michael Taylor and George Zayek are suspected of helping Ghosn flee by hiding him in luggage at an airport in Japan, and getting him into a private jet to leave the country.

Saito declined to say whether Japan has already sought the cooperation of U.S. criminal investigators, although he said all options were being explored. Japan and the U.S. have an extradition treaty.

Peter Taylor is suspected of having met several times with Ghosn in Tokyo, starting in July last year, to plot the escape, including giving him a key to a hotel room in Osaka, in central Japan, where Kansai Airport is located, Saito said. Saito said Ghosn flew out of Kansai Airport.

Prosecutors have said Ghosn clearly broke the law by leaving the country, defying bail conditions that required him to stay in Japan, mostly at his Tokyo home.

Separately, Saito said prosecutors on Wednesday forced open a lock to search the Tokyo office of Junichiro Hironaka, Ghosn’s defense lawyer until his exodus, for records of people Ghosn had been meeting there while out on bail, and other material.

Saito also said prosecutors were appealing to a judge to have contents of the computer Ghosn had used at Hironaka’s office released. Hironaka has refused to hand over Ghosn’s material, citing attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors went to Hironaka’s office to seize the computer earlier this month but failed to get it.

Ghosn has said he is innocent of the allegations, which center around under-reporting his future income and breach of trust in allegedly diverting Nissan money for his personal gain. He says the compensation was never decided or received, and the Nissan payments were for legitimate business.

He has said he left Japan because he could not expect a fair trial, and bail conditions prevented him from seeing his wife.

He has said Nissan Motor Co. drove him out to prevent a fuller merger with French alliance partner Renault.

Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades, has also lashed out at the Japanese criminal justice system.

Prosecutors have said the detention and bail conditions were fair.

“We want to stress that the act of fleeing was clearly wrong,” Saito told reporters. “We need to erase the misunderstanding.”

Ghosn’s theatrical flight has been an embarrassment for Japanese authorities. Surveillance cameras at his home and on streets showed him leaving the home.

He is believed to have taken the train and left from Kansai Airport, stopping by in Turkey, and reportedly hid in a box for musical equipment. Ghosn has declined to comment on the specifics of his escape.

The maximum penalty under Japanese law for illegally leaving the country is one year in prison or 300,000 yen ($2,750) in fines, or both. The maximum penalty for hiding a criminal or helping a criminal escape is three years in prison or 300,000 yen ($2,750) in fines.

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