Turkish police detained seven airport staff and pilots in Istanbul on Thursday and prosecutors raided Carlos Ghosn’s former house in Tokyo as authorities looked for clues to explain the former Nissan chairman’s escape from Japan to Lebanon.
The former car executive, who was facing trial in Tokyo for financial misconduct, landed in Beirut on Monday via Turkey after jumping bail and flying out of Osaka airport on a private jet.
Lebanon’s justice ministry said on Thursday that it had now received a request from Interpol for Mr Ghosn’s arrest — a so-called “red notice” that asks the country’s law enforcement to locate and “provisionally arrest” someone. Lebanon is under no obligation to comply with the request.
The Turkish authorities are investigating whether the detainees, including four pilots, helped Mr Ghosn escape, according to Anadolu agency. Turkish media also reported that the detentions were part of an investigation by the interior ministry into Mr Ghosn’s transit, given neither his entry nor exit were registered.
Turkish media said investigators were focusing on the pilots and a brief period of just under an hour during which a private jet carrying Mr Ghosn from Japan landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
Two airport staff and the trade and operations manager of a cargo company were also detained by Turkish police, according to local media. A Turkish aviation official confirmed reports that Mr Ghosn had transited via Ataturk airport.
The airport was closed to commercial passengers last year and now only deals with cargo planes and private jets. Publicly available flight records show that a private jet travelling from Osaka’s Kansai airport landed in Istanbul on December 29 at 5.26am, having departed Japan at 11.10pm the previous night.
Mr Ghosn, who was arrested in late 2018, had been awaiting trial in Tokyo on charges of financial misconduct — accusations he has consistently denied and which he claims were trumped-up as part of an attempt to remove him from his position as chairman of Nissan.
For the past seven months he had been living in a large house — a former embassy building — in the heart of Tokyo under strict bail conditions and what was thought to be the watertight scrutiny of Japanese prosecutors.
Before the Tokyo District Court granted Mr Ghosn bail — for which he handed over almost $14m — prosecutors warned that a man of his wealth and global connections was a clear flight risk.
Mr Ghosn’s escape had been planned with the help of private security operatives since October, according to people familiar with the situation.
It has exposed loopholes: although three of his passports — Lebanese, Brazilian and French — remain under lock and key with his Japanese lawyers, he has carried another French passport with him in Tokyo since his release on bail, to fulfil Japanese requirements that foreigners carry formal identification. It is not unusual for executives who travel a lot to hold two passports from the same country.
Lebanon on Monday said there were no grounds to arrest Mr Ghosn, who entered his home country with his French passport and Lebanese ID. There is no extradition agreement between Lebanon and Japan. France’s junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said on Thursday morning that if Mr Ghosn was to travel back to France he would not be extradited “because France never extradites its citizens”.
Meanwhile, Japanese prosecutors searched Mr Ghosn’s house in Tokyo for more than four hours. About a dozen prosecutors were seen leaving the house, only carrying their briefcases.
The Japanese prosecutors are believed to have launched a new investigation over allegations that the former chairman breached the country’s immigration control law when he fled to Lebanon without leaving any record of departing Japan, according to NHK. The Ministry of Justice and the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office could not immediately be reached for comment during an extended national holiday in Japan.
Additional reporting by Chloe Cornish in Beirut, Kana Inagaki in Tokyo and David Keohane in Paris