- Associated Press - Friday, January 3, 2020

BEIRUT — Interpol issued a wanted notice Thursday for former Nissan auto executive Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in a dramatic international corporate and legal soap opera that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.

Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan said in an interview that Lebanon “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan may be brought in for questioning. But he said Mr. Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Mr. Ghosn, whose ancestry is Lebanese, over to Japan.

The Interpol notice is the latest twist in Mr. Ghosn’s daring escape, which spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey made several arrests Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country.

Mr. Ghosn’s arrival in Lebanon, where he is a widely admired figure, jolted the nation, already in the midst of a crippling political impasse and its worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanon must now decide how to deal with the Interpol-issued Red Notice, which is a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. A Red Notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Mr. Ghosn.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Ghosn issued a statement — his second this week — seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape.

“The allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. I alone organized my departure. My family played no role,” he said.

Mr. Ghosn, who was born in Brazil and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn’t been seen in public since. In a statement Tuesday, he said he fled to avoid “political persecution” by a “rigged Japanese justice system.”

How he was able to flee Japan, avoiding the tight surveillance he was under while free on $14 million bail, is still a mystery, though Lebanese authorities have said he entered the country legally on a French passport.

Mr. Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country with close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the Japanese automaker from near-bankruptcy.

Even as he fell from grace internationally, politicians across the board mobilized in his defense after his arrest in Japan in November 2018, with some suggesting his detention may be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy. Lebanon’s foreign minister repeatedly called for his release.

Mr. Serhan said prosecutors will summon Mr. Ghosn and listen to him, and “at a later stage if there are any measures to be taken, then the precautionary measures will be taken.”

At the same time, Mr. Serhan said that Lebanon has not received an official extradition request from Japan, and he noted that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

“Mr. Ghosn arrived to Lebanon as any ordinary citizen. … Lebanese authorities have no security or judiciary charges against him. He entered the border like any other Lebanese using a legal passport,” he added.

There were mixed reactions in Lebanon to Mr. Ghosn’s return, with some cheering his freedom and others lamenting his arrival as yet another ”corrupt” Lebanese to contend with.

“I like this man. He has a brain and he developed Nissan and Renault from the ground up. He came back to his mother country which embraced him,” said Ghassan al-Baba, a 52-year-old taxi driver and former employee of General Motors in Kuwait.

Japanese news reports said that there were no official records in Japan of Mr. Ghosn’s departure but that a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey. Mr. Ghosn, who is charged with under-reporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and Renault.

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