As It Happens

Friend of ex-Nissan boss who fled Japan calls escape a step towards 'justice prevailing'

Ricardo Karam is happy to have his friend Carlos Ghosn back in Lebanon. Japanese authorities, not so much.

Carlos Ghosn confounded authorities by skipping bail and turning up in his home country of Lebanon

Former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn escaped house arrest in Japan and fled to Lebanon. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)


Ricardo Karam is happy to have his friend back in Lebanon. Japanese authorities, not so much.

That's because Karam's friend is Carlos Ghosn, the billionaire former chair of Nissan, who skipped bail while awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, and confounded authorities by showing up in Lebanon on Tuesday.

Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origin, has not said how he escaped Japan, where he was under 24-hour surveillance and had his passports seized. He was expected to face trial in April 2020. 

Lebanon says Ghosn entered the country legally and there is no reason to take any action against him.

Karam, a Lebanese TV host and friend of Ghosn's, spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. Here is part of their conversation.

How are you [and] his other friends and family feeling about this escape from Japan?

I think this is a special moment and a special occasion. And not only friends and family members are celebrating and happy to embrace. This is, I believe, a moment every person seeking justice prevailing is looking for. 

Why did he not stand up and face the courts in Japan?

I believe we have been following and witnessing for the past 14 months a very harsh life pattern.

It was more a psychological torture than a physical one. And we have seen how Mr. Ghosn was living in the jail ... and how they moved him to a small apartment in a specific suburb before moving to a normal apartment.

I think, and we all think, that somebody like Carlos Ghosn, who has brought the company to its pinnacle of success, does not deserve such behaviour and treatment.

Staying in a small apartment in Japan, though, doesn't exactly sound like torture.

Actually, you know, the first apartment he lived in, the conditions were very dire.

And we know, I think in Canada, or in the States or in even in Lebanon, everybody is innocent until proved to be guilty. And with the lack of a trial and the trial not to kick off and not to start, he is not guilty and he doesn't deserve to be treated the way he was treated.

Lebanese television presenter Ricardo Karam is one of Ghosn's friends and supporters. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

I want to ask you about the circumstances around Mr. Ghosn 's departure from Japan. A Lebanese Foreign Ministry official told Reuters that he ... returned to Lebanon legally using a French passport. But, you know, as far as we know, his passports — because he was a citizen of various countries — were all held by Japan. So what are you able to say about how he got out of Japan?

In a couple of days, there will be a press conference and Mr. Ghosn will be himself addressing the press and the public opinion, and he will be talking about that aspect. I'm not at all entitled to tackle that issue or to talk about it.

However, I believe that he made it, he's in Lebanon now, and this is what matters.

And I think the journey starts now. And what I mean by journey is the journey of telling and giving evidence and being specific, and telling what happened to him and giving explanation to every single accusation he has been labelled with.

The Lebanese channel MTV is reporting that Mr. Ghosn escaped using a team of covert operatives, and that they used the cover of a visiting Georgian musical troupe to smuggle him out of the country in a musical instrument case. I mean, it sounds like espionage. I'm just wondering, you know, is it fair to say at least, as his Japanese lawyer does, that he would have needed a lot of help to get out?

We have listened we have read a lot of those different versions. Sometimes it was a 007 adventure. In other times, it was a science fiction.

However, I repeat and I reiterate that he is the only one who can give explanation to what has happened and how he was able to leave and to flee Japan and to arrive to Lebanon.

For the moment, everything we've been listening to, everything we've been hearing, is not accurate and cannot be accurate unless given by the person who has lived this specific journey.

A view of a house that is believed to belong to Carlos Ghosn in Beirut, Lebanon, on Dec. 31. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

For those of us outside Lebanon, can you help us understand how significant a figure Carlos Ghosn is in that country?

He has inspired millions of people all over the world. And specifically in our parts of the region, he is somebody we look up at. He is somebody who has followed the remarkable path and who has embraced success and whose journey is something we all look up at.

And in a region where hope is lacking, we need to look up at those role models because they boost us. They give us energy and they make us go onwards and forward. And they let us know that any dream is feasible, and hope is always around the corner.

Let us open the door and let the light come in. 

He continues, though, because he has left Japan, to have these serious allegations of corporate crimes hanging over his head. Does that not affect his future in Lebanon?

These are allegations and nothing has been proved so far. I think now this is for the lawyers to talk about. And this is, you know, for courts and for a fair trial, an international one, that will give the final verdict and it will prove if Mr. Ghosn is innocent or guilty.

But the crimes are alleged to have taken place in Japan. You know, there's no extradition treaty, as I understand it, between Lebanon and Japan. So in what way would he ever face justice outside that country?

We need to wait for him to talk and to respond to all of those accusations and to tell us what is the next step he will eventually undertake.

Going forward, how would you personally like to see him use his status and influence in Lebanon?

We are living right now in very tough moments. Lebanese are in the street. They're protesting. There is a revolution. People need a change, and the change needs to start somewhere.

However, we lack leadership. And the leadership is something Mr. Ghosn has got.

His name has been several times a candidate for the Lebanese presidency, but this is something he has not been interested in. 

Will the things change? We don't know. I don't know. However, we need to wait and see.

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Kevin Robertson with files from The Associated Press. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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