How did Carlos Ghosn escape? Internet sleuths have some ideas

Dana Khraiche and Brian Bremner
Bloomberg News

How did Carlos Ghosn do it?

The former head of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, who was awaiting the first of two trials in Tokyo, somehow evaded almost round-the-clock manned and video surveillance and heavy restrictions on his freedom of movement to flee to Lebanon.

From there, Ghosn released an email Tuesday decrying the “injustice and political persecution” of the Japanese judicial system. The 65-year-old faced charges of financial misconduct and raiding corporate resources for personal gain, allegations he denies.

In this Oct. 6, 2017, file photo, former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn attends a media conference outside Paris, France.

Soon after he resurfaced, the internet lit up with unconfirmed reports and theories of how Ghosn, now an international fugitive, pulled off an escape befitting a Hollywood thriller — one that will be very hard for Japanese authorities to live down. There are still more questions than answers.

In one speculative account, which cited no sources, Lebanese television station MTV reported that Ghosn smuggled himself out in a large musical instrument box after a Christmas band visited his residence in Tokyo. He was then shipped out of the country and later entered Lebanon from Turkey on a private plane.

Junichiro Hironaka, right, lawyer for Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn, gestures to the media as he heads to his office in Tokyo, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Ghosn says from Lebanon he was not fleeing justice but instead left Japan to avoid "injustice and political persecution" over financial misconduct allegations.

A detailed report in French daily Le Monde, citing unidentified sources, said Ghosn’s wife Carole organized the escape with the help of her brothers and their contacts in Turkey. After leaving Tokyo, Ghosn took a private jet from a small airport in Japan to Turkey, and from there entered Lebanon with an ID card, landing in Beirut with Carole. The decision to flee may have come because of new information Japanese authorities could have obtained from a Swiss bank and from offshore centers including Dubai, the newspaper reported.

The Lebanese newspaper Annahar, by contrast, reported that Ghosn entered the country with a French passport. The former industry heavyweight has Lebanese, French and Brazilian citizenship — though all his passports had been taken from him. Meanwhile, a report that Ghosn met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun was denied by an official at the presidency.

In this March 6, 2019, file photo, a masked man, front with blue cap, believed to be former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, leaves Tokyo's Detention Center in Tokyo. Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who is awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, has arrived in Beirut, a close friend said Monday, Dec. 31, 2019. He apparently jumped bail. It was not clear how Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origin and holds French and Lebanese passports, left Japan where he was under surveillance and is expected to face trial in April 2020.

French newspaper Les Echos said Ghosn may have left Japan under a false identity with a forged passport, boarding a private plane from a smaller airport, where he would be less likely to be recognized.

The French foreign ministry, for its part, said it doesn’t know how Ghosn made his escape. Lebanon’s foreign ministry said that Ghosn entered Lebanon legally and it was unaware how he fled Japan and arrived to Beirut, according to a statement.

The home of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn is seen on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon. A close friend says Ghosn, who is awaiting trial in Japan, has arrived in Beirut.

On social media, would-be sleuths posted private jet flight information on aircraft that left Japan for Istanbul the same day that Ghosn may have left the country.

Ghosn’s vanishing act has been trending on Twitter and inspiring a fair amount of word play, as in Ghosn with the Wind and Ghosn, Ghosn Gone.

Ghosn is expected to give a press conference from Lebanon in his new home after the holidays. In the meantime, red-faced Japanese law enforcement and customs officials have some explaining to do.