Nissan's former Chairman Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday he was in Lebanon and was not fleeing justice, but instead sought to avoid "injustice and political persecution" in Japan, where he was awaiting trial for alleged financial misconduct.
Ghosn was out on bail before his departure, which occurred under unclear circumstances. He disclosed his location in a statement through his representatives that did not describe how he left the country. Conditions of his release on bail banned him from from traveling overseas. He promised to talk to reporters next week.
"I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan's legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold," the statement said.
Japanese media quoted prosecutors speaking anonymously who said they did not know how Ghosn had left the country while under surveillance.
Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origin and holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, was arrested in November 2018 and was expected to face trial in April 2020.
Prosecutors fought his release, but a court granted him bail with conditions that he be monitored and he could not meet with his wife Carole, who is also of Lebanese origin. Recently the court allowed them to speak by video calls.
Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon. It is unclear what steps the authorities might take.
Ghosn has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA.
He has been charged with under-reporting his future compensation and of breach of trust.
During his release on bail, Ghosn had been going daily to the office of his main lawyer Junichiro Hironaka to work on his case. Hironaka has not commented on Ghosn's departure from the country.
Earlier, Ricardo Karam, a television host and friend of Ghosn, told The Associated Press that Ghosn arrived in Lebanon on Monday morning.
"He is home," Karam told the AP in a message. "It's a big adventure."
Karam declined to elaborate.
Ghosn was credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s. The Lebanese took special pride in the auto industry icon, who speaks fluent Arabic and visited regularly. Born in Brazil, where his Lebanese grandfather had sought his fortune, Ghosn grew up in Beirut, where he spent part of his childhood at a Jesuit school.
Nissan did not have immediate comment. The Japanese automaker of the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models, has also been charged as a company in relation to Ghosn's alleged financial crimes.
Japanese securities regulators recently recommended Nissan be fined 2.4 billion yen ($22 million) over disclosure documents from 2014 through 2017. Nissan has said it accepted the penalty and had corrected its securities documents in May.
Its sales and profits have tumbled and its brand image is tarnished. It has acknowledged lapses in its governance and has promised to improve its transparency.
Another Nissan former executive Greg Kelly, an American, was arrested at the same time as Ghosn and is awaiting trial. He has said he is innocent.
Hiroto Saikawa, who replaced Ghosn as head of Nissan, announced his resignation in September after financial misconduct allegations surfaced against him related to dubious income. He has not been charged with any crime.
The conviction rate in Japan exceeds 99% and winning an acquittal through a lengthy appeals process could take years. Rights activists in Japan and abroad say its judicial system does not presume innocence enough and relies heavily on long detentions that lead to false confessions.
The charges Ghosn faces carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.