Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the amount Ghosn may have to forfeit in bail in dollars instead of yen.
One of the lead lawyers for indicted former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn says he is “surprised” and “perplexed” by his client’s sudden flight from Japan to Lebanon.
Ghosn attorney Junichiro Hironaka also told Japanese reporters on Tuesday that he was holding Ghosn’s passports under the conditions of his bail and would never secretly hand them over.
“I don’t know any more than what has been reported by the media. It came as a total surprise, and I am myself perplexed,” said Hironaka, a high-flying defense attorney who earned the nickname “The Razor” for his effectiveness in clearing clients.
Ghosn, 65, stunned Japan by bolting bail and returning to Lebanon where he holds citizenship, maintains business interests and is lionized as a kind of folk hero for his accomplishments on the global automotive stage.
In a statement issued Monday after arriving in the country, the fallen former head of the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi auto group said he was not fleeing justice in Japan but rather escaping injustice and political persecution. Ghosn had been awaiting trial in Tokyo for alleged financial misconduct during his time steering Nissan and faced years in prison if convicted.
“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,” Ghosn said. “I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
Ghosn’s strict bail conditions kept him under tight surveillance and barred him from international travel. In order to win Ghosn’s release from jail – after 108 days of lockup – Hironaka took the unorthodox measure of vouching as Ghosn’s personal guarantor until trial.
That included being the custodian of Ghosn’s passports.
Hironaka said Ghosn’s defense team will tell the court that it is also very troubled by Ghosn’s escape. He said he expects to share information with the court if more facts come to light.
Ghosn may have to forfeit 1.5 billion yen ($13.8 million) in bail money for leaving Japan.
The sense of confusion in Japan is amplified by the timing of Ghosn’s departure. It came as the country heads into an extended New Year’s holiday, when most government offices and business are shut down for days and people head out on vacation.
Ghosn was initially arrested on Nov. 19, 2018, in Tokyo on allegations of financial improprieties while chairman of Nissan Motor Co. He has been indicted on four counts in Japan.
The first two are charges of failing to disclose tens of millions of dollars in deferred compensation. The two other counts are breach of trust charges that accuse Ghosn of diverting company money for personal gain.
Ghosn, who denies the entire slate of charges, faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to 150 million yen ($1.4 million) if convicted on all four counts.