Interpol issued a so-called "Red Notice" Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in an escape that has baffled and embarrassed authorities.
A Red Notice is a 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 Ghosn.
Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press 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 Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Ghosn over to Japan.
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn's flight from Japan has sparked a search of his Tokyo home, while Turkish authorities have reportedly detained seven people as part of an investigation into how he was able to flee to Lebanon via Istanbul.
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 icon, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.
How did Ghosn escape?
Ghosn skipped bail and fled to Lebanon on a private plane before his trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges. While the details of his flight aren't yet known, there are reports that he hid in a box designed for musical equipment, according to The New York Times. It's also unclear how Ghosn avoided 24-hour surveillance in Tokyo.
Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn's third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one. Tokyo prosecutors and police did not immediately comment. Government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year's holidays.
Ghosn said Tuesday in a statement that he left for Lebanon because he thought the Japanese judicial system, and he wanted to avoid "political persecution." He said he would talk to reporters next week.
Lebanon, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with Japan, has said Ghosn entered the country legally, and there was no reason to take action against him.
Ghosn, who was charged with under-reporting his future compensation and a breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence. He says Japanese authorities trumped up the charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA. Before his arrest, Ghosn was chairman of both Nissan and Renault.
His 1.5 billion yen ($14 million) bail that Ghosn posted on two separate instances to get out of detention is being revoked.
The Lebanese minister for presidential affairs, Selim Jreissati, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn entered legally at the airport with a French passport and Lebanese ID.
Ghosn's lawyers in Japan said they had no knowledge of the escape and they had all his passports. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV, without identifying sources, reported Thursday that Ghosn had two French passports.
Earlier Japanese reports said there were no official records in Japan of Ghosn's departure, but a private jet had left from a regional airport to Turkey.
Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said Thursday that Turkish authorities had detained seven people as part of an investigation into how Ghosn fled to Lebanon via Istanbul.
The private DHA news agency reported that those detained are 4 pilots, a cargo company manager and two airport workers.
The Hurriyet newspaper said the plane carrying Ghosn landed at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport at 05:30 on Dec. 29. Ghosn was not registered upon landing and was smuggled on board another plane that left for Lebanon, the paper reported.