Carlos Ghosn Arrives In Lebanon, Escaping Trial In Japan

Jan 2, 2020
Originally published on January 2, 2020 10:21 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn had his passport seized. He was under 24-hour surveillance in Japan, but somehow he escaped and turned up in Lebanon. This means he'll most likely avoid a trial in Tokyo, where he was facing charges of financial misconduct.

Rami Khouri is a professor of journalism at the American University in Beirut (ph). He's on the line from Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.

RAMI KHOURI: Happy to be with you.

KING: So the big question is, how did Mr. Ghosn get to Lebanon? Do you have any insight into that?

KHOURI: No. That's the big question that everybody's wondering about. But it seems pretty clear now, after a lot of early speculation about him being sneaked out in a musical instrument case or something, that this was a highly organized professional job that was done by a - mostly French people, it seems, with apparently the involvement of the Lebanese government. Again, that seems to be the case from the most reliable reports. But we don't have the definitive - and Carlos Ghosn himself said that he's not going to talk about the details of it.

KING: He has roots in Lebanon. Right? I think a lot of people have wondered, why did he go there? This is a very worldly man.

KHOURI: Well, he was born there, and he went to high school there. Then he went overseas to college, and his whole career has been abroad. He comes back to Lebanon every once in a while. He has a lot of money invested in Lebanon in banks and other things. The main reason he came to Lebanon is they don't have an extradition treaty with Japan. And Lebanon is a kind of free-for-all place. And you know, it's a place that has always accepted exiles and people who are running away from issues in other countries. But he is a citizen. He has a Lebanese passport, so he knew he could get in without any problem. And he has very high-level contacts, which clearly he used. And this allowed him to make it back to Lebanon.

But he's living under a bit of a cloud according to international law, though many people in Lebanon think he's a bit of a hero. There are signs in Lebanon that say, we are all Carlos Ghosn. And - but many other people also think that he is a product of the corrupt political elite that has allowed people to make billions and billions of dollars, and they see him as one of them.

So there's very mixed opinions. Some people see him as a hero. Some people see him as part of the corrupt elite. That - the millions of people who are demonstrating in the streets in Lebanon, they want to get rid of that corrupt elite.

KING: Yeah. This is the thing that's so interesting to me is Lebanon has had these protests against corruption, against economic mismanagement. Those protests have been aimed upward at the government, at the wealthy. And this is a wealthy man who is accused of financial crimes.

KHOURI: Yes. But it's this feeling that the - he's not going to get a fair trial. That - he was admired by Lebanese for many years - and still is by some - because of his success internationally. I mean, to run Renault and Nissan and do the great things he's done - so a lot of people were very proud of him as a great Lebanese success story. And that's one reason why people support him.

They also - you know, they like the idea that he snuck out. And it was - it's like, you know, a daring movie. And he got out, and he got back to Lebanon. So there's - but like everything in Lebanon, it's very split between those who like him and those who think that he's part of the problem of the country.

KING: Rami Khouri is a professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut. He's also a nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

KHOURI: My pleasure. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.