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Japan tries to solve the mystery of Carlos Ghosn's audacious escape

Posted January 2, 2020 5:14 a.m. EST

— Japanese authorities have raided the house where fugitive auto executive Carlos Ghosn was staying before he escaped to Lebanon earlier this week.

Japanese media reported that Tokyo district prosecutors entered the property on Thursday. CNN affiliate TV Asahi also reported that prosecutors were working with police to access CCTV video around his home as part of their investigation.

Ghosn — the former chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, and former chairman and CEO of their alliance partner, Renault — had been awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial wrongdoing, including allegations that he understated his income for years and funneled $5 million of Nissan's money to a car dealership he controlled. He was ousted from his posts at Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors following his arrest in November 2018, and later resigned from Renault.

As a condition of being released on bail, Ghosn was required to stay in Japan. But his case was completely upended earlier this week after Ghosn revealed that he had fled Japan for Lebanon to escape what he called a "rigged" justice system.

It is still not clear how Ghosn, who is a citizen of France, Brazil and Lebanon, was able to slip out of Japan. Reuters and the Financial Times have reported that he was smuggled out of Tokyo by a private security company -— a plot that the media organizations say took months to concoct.

CNN Business has been unable to verify the circumstances behind his departure, and Ghosn did not elaborate on his escape in his public statement earlier this week.

Japan's justice ministry, the Tokyo prosecutor's office and the city's district court have not responded to requests from CNN Business this week for comment about Ghosn's escape. Government offices are closed this week for the New Year holiday.

Legal experts and political analysts say that Japan is probably trying to figure out whether Ghosn violated immigration law when he left the country — not that there's much of a chance of forcing him to return.

Prosecutors in Tokyo are now likely retracing Ghosn's moves through Japan, collecting surveillance footage and searching for potential collaborators said Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor who now runs a compliance and law office in Japan.

Gohara added that Ghosn's trial is almost certainly now canceled. The bigger question, he said, is how Japanese authorities will respond to Ghosn's attacks on them, now that he is able to speak freely about his detention.

Ghosn has repeatedly denied the charges against him, and claimed that his arrest was part of a plot to remove him from the automotive empire he built. In his statement this week, he said he would "no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied."

Japan can't force Lebanon to send Ghosn back, said Keith Henry, the founder and representative director of Asia Strategy, a research and policy firm based in Tokyo. The two countries have no extradition agreement.

"It is a bigger deal for [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe and Japan than for Ghosn," Henry said. "No matter what they do now, it is very difficult to overcome the embarrassment of letting go one of the most high-profile suspects" of corporate scandal since Japan's economic boom that followed World War II.

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