Tokyo prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant Tuesday for the wife of former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn for alleged perjury when she appeared in court last year in connection with her husband's suspected misuse of the company's funds.
Ghosn's wife Carole, 53, is now believed to be in Lebanon with her husband, who violated his bail conditions by fleeing Japan late last month.
(File photo taken in March 2019 shows former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole in Tokyo, just days after he was released on bail for the first time.)
The likelihood of Carole Ghosn being arrested is slim, given that Japan has no extradition treaty with Lebanon. But the prosecutors' special investigation squad is considering whether it would be possible to detain her with the help of the International Criminal Police Organization.
The squad suspects that during an examination of a witness last April at the Tokyo District Court, she denied knowing one of Ghosn's acquaintances whom she had previously contacted.
Carlos Ghosn is accused of causing damage to Nissan by having the automaker's subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates pay a total of $10 million to Omani distributor Suhail Bahwan Automobiles LLC between July 2017 and July 2018, and having around $5 million of it transferred to an investment firm that he effectively owned.
The special investigation team said Carole Ghosn met with the acquaintance who sent money to the Lebanese firm, Good Faith Investments, and they also exchanged many messages after her husband was arrested on Nov. 19, 2018.
But it said that in the witness examination on April 11, 2019, Carole Ghosn said she did not know the acquaintance, who was an executive of the Omani distributor.
Although she said she had no memory of communicating with the executive, the prosecutors have confirmed after examining her confiscated smartphone that she contacted him multiple times via a chat app, according to an investigative source.
The messages she sent to the executive included one suggesting they needed to meet to confirm what to say so as not to contradict each other, the source said.
Carole Ghosn appeared in court based on Japan's law of criminal procedure, which states that prosecutors can request the examination of a person who may possess information essential to the investigation of a crime before the first trial date.
Investigative sources had said the money sent to the Lebanese investment firm was believed to have ended up in a company owned by Carole Ghosn and was possibly used to purchase a luxury yacht.
The district court has decided to forfeit the bail of 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) deposited with it by Carlos Ghosn. The forfeited sum, believed to be the largest ever in Japan, will be transferred to state coffers.
The probability of Carlos Ghosn returning to Japan is low, but top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that Tokyo will seek cooperation from Lebanon in getting to the bottom of his escape.
(Ghosn's residence in Lebanon)
Japanese Ambassador to Lebanon Takeshi Okubo later met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at his office on the outskirts of Beirut.
Following a request from the ambassador, Aoun promised to provide "unstinting cooperation" to Japan to determine the facts of Ghosn's escape, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
The president also said Lebanon, which places great importance on its relations with Japan, did not have "any involvement whatsoever" in the incident, the ministry said.
Ghosn's dramatic escape from what he has said is a "rigged Japanese justice system" has clouded the outlook for his trial on financial misconduct charges, which was expected to start in April this year.
The former auto tycoon, who was initially arrested for alleged financial misconduct on Nov. 19, 2018, was granted bail of 1 billion yen on March 6 last year. But he returned to detention on April 4 following his fourth arrest and was released again on April 25 after paying 500 million yen in bail.
Under his bail conditions, Ghosn, who holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationality, was prohibited from traveling abroad and contacting his wife without approval. The prosecutors told the court she had contacted individuals related to the case.
After fleeing to Lebanon, Ghosn told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo over the weekend he plans to name at a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday those he thinks were behind his 2018 arrest, including some in the Japanese government, according to the U.S. broadcaster.
Ghosn said he has "actual evidence" and documents that will prove there was a plot to "take him out" in response to his plan to merge Nissan with its alliance partner Renault SA, the automaker's largest shareholder, according to the report.
Ghosn said the Japanese judicial system was unfair and that the "straw that broke the camel's back" was the fact that he was unable to speak to his wife.
Nissan said Tuesday in its first statement since Ghosn's escape there was no change to its plan to take legal action over his alleged financial misconduct.
"Ghosn's flight will not affect Nissan's basic policy of holding him responsible for the misconduct uncovered by the internal investigation," including misstatement of his remuneration and misappropriation of company assets for his personal benefit, Nissan said.
(Japanese Ambassador to Lebanon Takeshi Okubo, right, meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.)[Pool]
An internal probe has concluded that Nissan incurred a loss totaling over 35 billion yen due to financial misconduct by Ghosn and former Representative Director Greg Kelly, who has been charged with conspiring with the former chairman. The company has said it is set to bring a damages suit against Ghosn over the alleged misconduct.
Japanese investigative sources said Ghosn traveled to Osaka from Tokyo on a shinkansen bullet train on Dec. 29, before flying out of Kansai International Airport on a private jet. He arrived in Lebanon via Turkey on Dec. 30.
While it was already known that the former auto tycoon, after leaving his residence, met two U.S. security personnel at a Tokyo hotel and boarded a bullet train with them, new information from a source familiar with the matter indicates another non-Japanese national was also present during the hotel meeting.
In cooperation with Tokyo police, prosecutors are investigating the role of the man, believing he may have booked the room and helped Ghosn to flee the country.
The Financial Times reported Tuesday that a company linked to Mike Douglas, a former British serviceman, had paid the bill for a jet Ghosn used in his escape. But Douglas has denied any involvement, according to the newspaper.
While reports have said Ghosn entered Lebanon legally using a French passport and a Lebanese identification card, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV he had no knowledge of a French passport being used.
Following his escape, Japanese prosecutors confiscated Ghosn's French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports that were kept at his lawyers' office in Tokyo, but he had possessed a second French passport in a locked case.