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Carlos Ghosn banned from leaving Lebanon

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Via Financial Times

Carlos Ghosn has been banned from leaving Lebanon as Japanese prosecutors dragged his wife deeper into the drama surrounding him, in the latest blows to the former Nissan chairman who fled to Beirut last month after jumping bail in Tokyo.

The decision by a Lebanese judge was in response to an Interpol “red notice” for Mr Ghosn, the Middle Eastern nation’s state news agency reported on Thursday.

It came as Tokyo prosecutors lashed out at Mrs Ghosn, accusing her of “very malicious” behaviour as they laid out the basis of evidence-tampering allegations against her.

Their comments followed Mr Ghosn’s televised appearance on Wednesday at which he decried Japan’s “evil” justice system and accused the country’s officials of colluding with Nissan executives to engineer his downfall. 

In his first public remarks since his November 2018 arrest, Mr Ghosn justified his dramatic escape from Tokyo to Beirut by asserting his innocence and saying he had chosen the life of a fugitive in part because of bail conditions that banned him from seeing his wife, Carole.

Japanese prosecutors argued on Thursday, however, that the ban on contact between the Ghosns had been justified because of her ability to affect the criminal case they were building against him. 

Takahiro Saito, deputy chief prosecutor, said at a briefing they had been investigating Mrs Ghosn since April last year. Prosecutors allege that she then gave false testimony during questioning by judges regarding charges of financial misconduct against her husband. An arrest warrant for Ms Ghosn was issued last week.

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Meanwhile in Lebanon, Judge Ghassan Owaidat called Mr Ghosn to a morning hearing over Interpol’s non-binding request for Lebanon to question and detain him, and a suit brought against him by Lebanese lawyers relating to his visit to Israel, which is technically illegal under Lebanese law.

Mr Owaidat allowed Mr Ghosn, a Lebanese citizen, to keep his residency permit but forbade him from travelling, according to the state news agency.

Lebanon, which does not extradite its nationals, said Mr Ghosn arrived in the country legally with a French passport and Lebanese ID, but it had put Beirut and Tokyo in an uncomfortable diplomatic position.

One of the charges denied by Mr Ghosn relates to $35m in payments made to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles (SAB), an Omani distributor with ties to a friend of Mr Ghosn, between 2011 and 2018.

People familiar with the case have alleged that part of that money was diverted to Beauty Yachts, a company owned by Mrs Ghosn, to buy a €10m luxury yacht via Good Faith Investments, a company set up by Mr Ghosn’s former lawyer, and other vehicles linked to the former Nissan chairman. 

Japanese prosecutors on Thursday alleged that while her husband was in prison, Mrs Ghosn had tried to contact a Lebanese assistant working at Good Faith and asked her not to co-operate with the investigation.

It emerged last year that a laptop used by the assistant, which was eventually seized by Japanese prosecutors, contained files and other data that helped them build the case, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mrs Ghosn had also met a SAB executive in Lebanon and made a similar request, Mr Saito said at Thursday’s briefing, and when she was questioned last April she claimed she did not know the executive and did not recall meeting him. 

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“We felt it was very malicious,” Mr Saito said, adding they would “respond properly” when asked whether Japan would seek an Interpol red notice for Mrs Ghosn. “We had to show with facts that Ghosn’s assertion that his escape was justified was wrong.” 

When Japanese media last year reported that Mrs Ghosn had tried to contact people involved in the case, Mr Ghosn’s lawyers in Tokyo denied she had ever made such contact. Representatives for Mr Ghosn’s family were not immediately available for comment. 

Mr Saito also delivered a rebuttal of some of Mr Ghosn’s claims. 

While the former chairman described having had almost no access to lawyers during his 130 days in prison, Mr Saito said Mr Ghosn had met his lawyers almost every day for two hours except on Sundays.

He said an English interpreter had been present during interrogations, which had taken less than four hours on average per day.

“From the audio and video recordings, it is clear that confessions were not forced during interrogations,” Mr Saito said.

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