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Lebanese Reaction To Nissan's Ex- Chief Fleeing Japan For Lebanon

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's a cliche to say this next story sounds like a Hollywood movie. And yet, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn had his passport seized. He was under 24-hour surveillance in Tokyo. But he escaped from Japan and then turned up in Lebanon. This means he will likely avoid going to trial in Tokyo where he faces financial misconduct charges. And it seems that Lebanon's government has welcomed him. So how did he get there? Chloe Cornish with the Financial Times is reporting out this story. She's on Skype from Beirut. Hey, Chloe.

CHLOE CORNISH: Hi, Noel.

KING: So you've been talking to people who have been talking to Carlos Ghosn's family. Are we any closer to solving the mystery of how this man got out of Japan? What are they telling you?

CORNISH: I'm not, really, to be honest, at this point able to say how he got out of Japan. What we do know at this point is that he had a French passport in his possession, which he was able to use. What we do also know now this morning is that Turkish authorities are looking into how he was able to transit through Turkey on his way from Osaka in Japan to Lebanon, which is what he seems to have done. Turkish authorities are concerned that his entry and exit to the country wasn't registered.

KING: That's interesting. You also found out that he hired private investigators, right? What was their role in this?

CORNISH: So just to be clear, I didn't find that out. But the - so it's not private investigators. But it's believed that a private security company was used to help orchestrate this escape or flight from Japan, which clearly, like, took a lot of planning, right...

KING: Yeah, I'd imagine.

CORNISH: ...As you said, he was under 24/7 surveillance.

KING: You also reported that Lebanese officials had been pushing for his release. And I think this is one of the really interesting things about Carlos Ghosn. This is a - what you might call a worldly man. Can you explain to people why Lebanon is so interested in him in particular? He has family roots there, right?

CORNISH: Yeah. So Carlos Ghosn, which is how you pronounce his name in Arabic, is a Lebanese citizen. His family are from Lebanon. He spent quite a large chunk of his childhood in Lebanon, although he was born in Brazil. And he has business interests here as well - just sort of small business interests on the side of being one of the world's biggest automotive moguls. He's part-owner of a winery. And he - yeah, he holds a Lebanese passport. And the Lebanese government, which I found out yesterday, had actually requested his extradition from Japan back in November last year in formal letters to the Japanese government.

And this was a request that was reiterated, actually, just a week ago - and kind of coincidental timing - when the Japanese foreign minister made an official visit to Beirut on December the 20th. So at a meeting with the Lebanese president and the Japanese foreign minister, this file was raised again, this request for Mr. Ghosn's extradition was - and for him to face trial in Lebanon rather than Japan was raised again.

KING: I see. And very quickly, what do Lebanese people, ordinary people, think of him?

CORNISH: For a long time, Carlos Ghosn has been seen as a sort of archetype of success as a Lebanese expatriate. And Lebanon has a very strong business culture and also has a huge diaspora population. But it's fair to say that his power is dimming. I mean, there's a lot of people who think...

KING: I would...

CORNISH: ...Maybe he is guilty. They don't know. A lot of people have a lot of sympathies (ph) about him, too...

KING: So some mixed feelings. Financial Times reporter Chloe Cornish. Thanks so much.

CORNISH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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