Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who is awaiting trial in Japan, has arrived in Beirut, in Lebanon, a statement by him confirmed. He has apparently jumped bail.
He had been released on bail by a Tokyo court while awaiting trial but was not allowed to travel overseas.
It was not clear how Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origins and holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, left Japan where he is under surveillance and is expected to face trial in April 2020. All three passports had been confiscated as part of his bail conditions.
According to a Lebanese newspaper, Al-Joumhouriya, Ghosn arrived in Lebanon on a private jet from Turkey. His wife, Carole Ghosn, is with him in Lebanon at a home with armed guards outside.
Speaking from Lebanon, the ousted Chairman said that he was not fleeing justice but had instead left Japan to avoid "injustice and political persecution" over financial misconduct allegations during his tenure leading the automaker.
"I am now in Lebanon and will 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 statement said.
He disclosed his location in the statement through his representatives, but did not describe how he left Japan. He promised to talk to reporters next week.
Ghosn has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA.
He has been charged with under-reporting his future compensation and of breach of trust and was expected to face trial in April 2020.
Although prosecutors fought his release, a court granted him bail with conditions that he be monitored and that he could not meet with his wife Carole, who is also of Lebanese origin. Recently the court allowed them to speak by video calls.
He had posted 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail on two separate releases. After an earlier release, Ghosn had been rearrested on additional charges.
During his release on bail, Ghosn had been going daily to the office of his main lawyer Junichiro Hironaka to work on his case. Hironaka has not commented on Ghosn's departure from the country.
The charges Ghosn faces carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Japan's conviction rate exceeds 99% and winning an acquittal through a lengthy appeals process could take years. Rights activists in Japan and abroad say its judicial system does not presume innocence enough and relies heavily on long detentions that lead to false confessions.
As Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon however, it is unclear what steps the authorities might take. They two nations however do have diplomatic ties, with a deputy Japanese foreign minister visiting Beirut 10 days ago.
It remains unclear as to how Ghosn left.
Hironaka, confirmed to reporters that they still had Ghosn's passports in their possession, confessing he was "dumbfounded" at the news of his client's flight -- which heard about via the media.
Public broadcaster NHK cited an anonymous source as saying the Immigration Services Agency had no record of a Carlos Ghosn leaving the country, and authorities were reviewing whether he left using another name.
NHK also quoted a foreign ministry official as insisting: "He was not supposed to leave the country. Had we known about it beforehand, we would have reported that to proper law enforcement authorities."
Taichiro Motoe, a lawmaker from Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), said the news had come as a "shock" and called for "swift and effective" improvements. Another LDP lawmaker, Masahisa Sato, said: "If this is true, it was not 'departing the country', it was an illegal departure and an escape, and this itself is a crime.
In the past, Ghosn had been credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s, rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy. At that time, he was also a celebrity in Japan, revered for his managerial acumen.
Ghosn's case has drawn intense media attention in Japan. In one instance when he was released from custody in March, the former executive normally seen in luxury suits wore a surgical mask and dressed like a construction worker to avoid media scrutiny under the advice of one of his lawyers. He was still spotted by the Japanese media and followed.
(With inputs from agencies)