January 8, 2020 / 7:55 PM / a month ago

Seeking justice: the legal risks facing fugitive Carlos Ghosn

PARIS, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Carlos Ghosn said on Wednesday he was the victim of a conspiracy to oust him from the helm of automaker Nissan and escaped from Japan because he could not defend himself against baseless charges of financial misconduct.

Now in his childhood home of Lebanon, Ghosn, one of the world’s most recognised corporate leaders, is out of the clutches of Japan’s judiciary but is an international fugitive still subject to legal risks.

Here are some of the risks:

HOW SAFE IS GHOSN IN LEBANON?

Interpol has issued an international arrest notice for Ghosn at Japan’s request. Lebanese authorities have said they will take the necessary steps, without spelling out what that would involve.

Lebanon does not have a formal extradition treaty with Japan. While Japan could still lodge an ad hoc request, Lebanon’s laws prohibit the extradition of Lebanese nationals to foreign states. Ghosn has Lebanese, French and Brazilian nationality.

Ghosn said he had received no assurances from the public prosecutor, who has summoned Ghosn for questioning on Thursday.

The businessman is feted as a local hero in Lebanon and has links to the upper echelons of power.

“Before political cover, he has Christian cover,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, noting that Ghosn’s ancestry is Maronite, the most powerful of Lebanon’s Christian communities. Extraditing a Maronite “would be a very polarizing decision to make.”

HOW FREE IS GHOSN TO TRAVEL ABROAD?

The Interpol Red Notice calls on authorities to arrest a wanted person but does not compel them to do so. Even so, the risk of detention abroad will be higher than if he remains in Lebanon, extradition lawyers said.

“The upshot of that is there are a 194 countries that are members of Interpol and any of them, other than Lebanon and France, could either detain him automatically if he crossed their border or do so relatively quickly if they had some kind of extradition arrangement with Japan,” said Nick Vamos of London law firm Peters & Peters, a former head of extradition at Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service.

Brazil also refuses to extradite its own citizens.

After being held for half a year in an austere Japanese detention centre before spending seven months under stringent bail conditions, which included not being allowed to see his wife, Ghosn said: “I prefer this prison to the one before.”

WHAT LEGAL STEPS MAY COME NEXT?

A senior Japanese justice ministry official acknowledged the likelihood of persuading Lebanon to hand Ghosn over was low.

Ghosn could yet face trial in Lebanon if the government there refused an eventual extradition request from Japan and the Lebanese prosecutor determined that the Japanese charges he faced constituted a criminal offence locally.

Tokyo could also try to seize assets belonging to Ghosn, Vamos said.

“I left Japan because I wanted justice. It is the only way to reestablish my reputation. If I don’t get it in Japan, I will get it somewhere else,” Ghosn told a news briefing.

A source close to Ghosn has said he wanted the charges to be brought against him in a Lebanese court, where his legal team believes it has a stronger chance of winning the case.

“It will be a long process,” the source said.

Ghosn’s legal team, meanwhile, might argue for the lifting of the Interpol Red Notice, said Michael Drury, Head of Extradition at BCL Solicitors who counts opponents of Turkey’s president among his clients.

Ghosn would not be drawn on his next move.

“I am used to what you call ‘Mission Impossible’,” he said. “You can expect me in the next weeks to take some initiatives.” (Reporting by Richard Lough; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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