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Exclusive: Ghosn’s early trial hopes quashed by COVID-19 pandemic

23 May 2020
Somewhere in the mountainous Cedars area in Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn is enjoying the sun, ski slopes and spending fresh dollars to support an upscale lifestyle. (Supplied by Ghosn's family friend)
Somewhere in the mountainous Cedars area in Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn is enjoying the sun, ski slopes and spending fresh dollars to support an upscale lifestyle. (Supplied by Ghosn's family friend)
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Updated 25 May 2020
23 May 2020

Leila Hatoum

Special to Arab News Japan

BEIRUT: Somewhere in Tokyo, there is a legal team working furiously to finish the final touches on files concerning the extradition of two US citizens whom Japan alleges they helped Carlos Ghosn, the infamous car manufacturing mogul, escape Japan late last year.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the mountainous Cedars area in Lebanon, Carlos Ghosn is enjoying the sun, ski slopes and spending fresh dollars to support an upscale lifestyle, without a single worry, says a member close to his family.

Lebanon’s banking sector had been hard hit by the country’s financial crisis and capital control measures were imposed on any money withdrawal or money transfer services limiting such transactions to as low as $150 every two weeks.

But that does not apply to Ghosn, who has shares in a local bank, a winery, among other businesses.

“His family send him money and he has his own investments in several sectors internationally and in Lebanon, which provide for his expenses in the form of fresh money coming from abroad,” explained the member close to the Ghosn family.

The former car manufacturing mogul who once headed the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi conglomerate, “is not worried,” when it comes to the latest updates in his case they told Arab News Japan.

The member added that the infamous 5’ 8 “fugitive” is rather keen on speeding up his trial in Lebanon and he is positive it will prove his innocence.”

On Wednesday, the US Federal Court in Massachusetts issued arrest warrants against Michael Tylor, aged 59 and his son Peter Tylor, aged 27, both US citizens, based on requests put forward by the Japanese authorities.

The Taylors are accused of aiding Ghosn in his grand escape from Japan, where he was awaiting trial for alleged breach of trust and financial misconduct charges.

Tokyo-based Dr. Imad Ajami, who has been following Ghosn’s case from the very first day as the coordinator of Ghosn’s Support Committee (the committee had suspended its activities shortly following Ghosn’s grand escape from Tokyo), told Arab News Japan: “The news was well received by the official authorities in Tokyo.”

According to one high-ranking Japanese official who spoke to Arab News Japan on the condition of anonymity, the relevant authorities are working on the extradition papers of Michael Taylor and his son Peter, whose role in the grand escape of Ghosn from Tokyo shortly before New Year’s eve, has been “major, and without it the operation would have failed.”

Both men were arrested outside of Boston, shortly before boarding a plane to Europe, where they were said to have chartered a private jet to take them to Lebanon. The US federal court had denied them bail in fear that they may flee the country.

Late Friday, Ghosn’s close circle in the Lebanese capital Beirut, told Arab News Japan he had no comment on the matter, which insinuates that he may have known about the Taylors’ upcoming visit.

Japan and the US have an extradition agreement with a 45-day leeway for the US to finalize a defendant’s papers.

Judge Donald Cabell informed the two defendants that their case would take some time before their files are ready for extradition, based on an extradition agreement between both countries.

The Japanese have to send the legal files to the US for Taylors’ extradition, but all the work may not be as fruitful as the Japanese would hope for.

Despite the existence of an extradition agreement between both countries, a Washington-based US congressman told Arab News Japan on Thursday that there would be no extradition as far as he knows.

“No US citizen should be tried outside the US and the Taylors are US citizens,” the congressman, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

With that, Japan, who is looking for interrogating and trying the Taylors in Tokyo, may find itself facing the same scenario it faced with Lebanon refusing to hand over Ghosn, and opting to try him in Lebanon instead.

The high-ranking Japanese official told Arab News Japan that his country had motioned to the Japanese embassy in Lebanon to follow up on Ghosn’s file again in light of the US-made arrests.

According to the official, “the Swiss banks had handed over all the files related to Ghosn’s case; the US has arrested two men based on Japan’s request; and France’s Nanterre courts have proceeded with the case against Ghosn. So we hope that the Lebanese stand would change and show a greater cooperation with us on Ghosn’s case.”

He added: “Lebanon had formally informed us that by law, it cannot hand over its own citizens if it can try them for similar charges in Lebanon. It also informed us that it had put a travel ban on Ghosn.”

The member close to Ghosn’s family questioned the Japanese step, saying “there is no correlation between the move taken by the US court and the Lebanese decision with respect to Ghosn. So the Lebanese stand from the case shouldn’t vary. Ghosn insists on holding the trial in Lebanon and he insists on his innocence.”

Ghosn, whose case has fanned across three continents and seven countries, and is far from being over, has been making headlines since 2018, for all the wrong reasons.

His feud with Nissan —a company he helped out of bankruptcy over a decade ago— and with France’s Renault, which is now after Ghosn for alleged breach of trust and financial misconduct, were only outshined by his least expected escape from Japan on 29 December last year, causing one big spectacular rollercoaster for media worldwide.

Ghosn had accused Nissan of coming after him out of spite and based on false accusations. He had also lashed out against the Japanese judicial system calling it archaic, unjust and pressured by political intervention.

“Lebanon formally informed the Japanese authorities that it had asked Ghosn against mixing between his conflict with Nissan and Japan. He will not be commenting on the Japanese Legal system going forward,” said the Japanese official. “Our judiciary is independent of any political pressure, and as a government, we never interfere in interrogations and trials. However, because Ghosn fled Japan, it was his illegal action that made his case a concern of the Japanese government,” he added.

According to a close friend of Ghosn’s family, “Ghosn is pushing hard for his trial to start in Lebanon. The sooner it happens, the better. If he is tried in Lebanon, he cannot be tried for the same charges elsewhere. But with Covid-19 spreading worldwide, including here, things have been slow when it comes to trials.”

The Japanese official said his country “will not be attending Ghosn’s trial in Lebanon should it happen,” but added that “the Lebanese lawyers representing Nissan may attend, is Nissan wished not to boycott the trial.”

Back to the Cedars, Lebanon, it is the weekend again. Ghosn usually spends his time with friends and family there, where he owns a number of chalets.

“His weight has increased, a lot since he arrived in Lebanon,” says the family friend, adding that “he is relaxed, and enjoying time in his motherland. He keeps saying he wants to stay and spend the rest of his life in Lebanon.”

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