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Ghosn escaped Japan 'hiding in a musical instrument case'

Rupert Neate
Photograph: Maya Alleruzzo/AP

Carlos Ghosn reportedly fled house arrest in Japan in a musical instrument case, in an audacious Hollywood movie-style escape masterminded by his wife, Carole, with the assistance of a Gregorian music band and a team of ex-special forces officers.

The escape began when the band arrived at his home in Tokyo, where Ghosn has been held under house arrest and strict police surveillance, according to Lebanese TV news channel MTV. At the end of the performance, as the musicians packed up their instruments, Ghosn apparently slipped into one of the larger cases and was taken to a small local airport.

Carlos Ghosn was one of the biggest figures in the global car industry until his arrest for alleged financial misconduct. He forged an alliance between France’s Renault and Japan’s Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors – he was chair of Nissan, chief executive and chairman of Renault and chairman of Mitsubishi.

19 November 2018
Ghosn is arrested by Japanese police on his arrival at a Tokyo airport. This follows the arrest hours earlier of Nissan board member Greg Kelly, a key ally of Ghosn’s. Both are sent to a detention centre in Tokyo. Nissan and Mitsubishi say they will both remove Ghosn as chairman.

20 November 2018
Renault retains Ghosn as chairman and CEO, but appoints Thierry Bolloré as interim CEO in Ghosn’s absence.

22 November 2018
Nissan board sacks Ghosn as chairman.

26 November 2018
Misubishi sacks Ghosn as chairman.

10 December 2018
Prosecutors add to the charges against Ghosn and Kelly, who are accused of underreporting Ghosn’s income over five years to 2015. They are are rearrested on allegations of understating Ghosn’s income for three more years to March 2018.

13 December 2018
Renault retains Ghosn as chairman and chief executive after finding no irregularities in his pay packages.

20 December 2018
A Tokyo court rejects a motion from prosecutors to extend the detentions of Ghosn and Kelly.

21 December 2018
Ghosn is re-arrested on allegations of aggravated breach of trust, accused of shifting personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008. The legal team for Kelly, who suffers from spinal stenosis and needs surgery, requests his release on bail.

24 December 2018
Kelly is released on bail, after paying £507,000 in cash.

31 December 2018
A Tokyo court extends Ghosn’s detention by 10 days.

8 January 2019
Ghosn proclaims his innocence during a court hearing. A judge says continued detention is necessary due to flight risk and the possibility of concealing evidence.

10 January 2019
Renault says it has found no evidence of illegal or fraudulent payments to Ghosn.

11 January 2019
Ghosn is indicted on two new charges of financial misconduct.

14 January 2019
Ghosn’s wife says he is suffering “draconian” treatment in prison.

18 January 2019
Nissan and Mitsubishi accuse Ghosn of receiving €7.8m (£6.9m) in “improper payments” from a joint venture between the carmakers.

24 January 2019
Renault appoints Jean-Dominique Senard as chairman and Thierry Bolloré as chief executive.

28 January 2019
Nissan confirms it is being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

30 January 2019
Ghosn accuses Nissan executives of a plot to oust him and prevent closer ties with Renault, in his first interview since his arrest in November.

12 February 2019
Nissan cuts profit forecast and takes £65m charge related to the scandal.

13 February 2019
Renault’s board of directors votes to strip Ghosn of up to £26m in pay and severance.

6 March 2019
Ghosn is released on bail and must live under strict bail conditions. His lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, quits.

12 March 2019
Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi pledge a 'new start' for the alliance, breaking up the all-powerful chairmanship previously occupied by Ghosn.

3 April 2019
Renault says his investigation found Ghosn violated its ethical practices.Two days later, Ghosn is re-arrested and detained for 10 days.

8 April 2019
Nissan shareholders sack Ghosn from the company board and replace him with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. The next day, Ghosn accuses executives of conspiring against him in a video. 
Julia Kollewe

A private plane was waiting to whisk the former corporate titan to Istanbul, Turkey. From there he appears to have boarded a Bombardier Challenger private jet for a flight to Lebanon, where he arrived before dawn on Monday. The flight path recorded by plane tracking site FlightRadar shows the jet disappear at 4.16am, just as it approached Beirut-Rafic Hariri international airport.

Ricardo Karam, a Lebanese television host and friend of Ghosn who has interviewed him several times, confirmed Ghosn arrived in Lebanon on Monday morning. “He is home,” Karam said. “It’s a big adventure.”

News of the escape came as surprise to the Japanese authorities – who have charged Ghosn with falsifying records about his personal pay in order to enrich himself – and Ghosn’s own legal team.

Both were shocked that the former Nissan-Renault boss had managed to flee Japan, despite being subject to round-the-clock surveillance and having surrendered all three of his passports. He is a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon.

The Japanese ambassador to Lebanon, Matahiro Yamaguchi, was at a party in Beirut when news of Ghosn’s successful escape started leaking out at about 6pm local time on Monday. Approached by MTV at the party, Yamaguchi said the Japanese government had no information. Yamaguchi was then seen texting furiously before leaving the party abruptly without saying goodbye to his hosts.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Ghosn’s lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he was “surprised and baffled” to learn of the escape from a TV news bulletin. Hironaka told reporters he still had all three of his client’s passports in his possession, and there was immediate speculation that Ghosn travelled on a fresh French or Lebanese passport.

“It would have been difficult for him to do this without the assistance of some large organisation,” Hironaka said at a hastily organised press conference. “I want to ask him, ‘How could he do this to us?’

“I wanted to prove he was innocent,” said Hironaka, who last saw Ghosn on Christmas Day. “But when I saw his statement in the press, I thought he doesn’t trust Japan’s courts.”

Japanese immigration officials have no record of Ghosn having left the country, the country’s state broadcaster, NHK, said on Tuesday. The news channel said a person resembling Ghosn was recorded by Lebanese officials as entering the country at Beirut airport under a different name.

A Lebanese foreign ministry official told Reuters that Ghosn entered the country legally on a French passport and using his Lebanese ID with normal security procedures. The French foreign ministry press office said it had no immediate comment.

Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan, meaning it is very unlikely Ghosn will be forced to return. Lebanon has extradition treaties with only the US and South Korea.

Ghosn, who was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, moved to Lebanon when he was six and lived in the country before moving to Paris for university. The Lebanese government has been very supportive of Ghosn since his arrest in November 2018 and said he represented “one of Lebanon’s success stories abroad”. After his arrest billboards in Beirut were plastered with the slogan “We are all Carlos Ghosn”.

The escape plan was, according to MTV, organised by Ghosn’s Lebanese wife, Carole, even though he has been prevented from seeing her without express permission from the court as a condition of his ¥1.5bn (£10.5m) bail. For seven months, the couple were unable to speak to each other at all.

“If this is true, we have to assume that this is a breach of bail conditions,” Hironaka said. “His act is unforgivable and a betrayal of Japan’s justice system.”

Ghosn confirmed through a PR agency in New York late on Monday that he was in Beirut. He was staying at a family home with Carole in Beirut’s upmarket Achrafieh neighbourhood, where private security guards and local police officers are standing guard.

A man who described himself as an English neighbour approached the gates on Tuesday morning to leave Ghosn a card reading: “Carlos, welcome home!” The man told Reuters: “It’s a good thing that at last he’s out of being locked up for something which he may or may not – probably not – have done.”