An international vanishing act

Published 6:02 pm Friday, January 10, 2020

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Sometimes I’m browsing news stories and stumble across something that sounds more like a movie plot than real life. But the old saying often rings true: “the truth is stranger than fiction.”

Since last week, the case of Carlos Ghosn has taken some weird turns. After reading a few headlines, I took a crash course in the case to learn more by reading articles from the Associated Press, NPR, and NHK World News (Japan’s public news service).

The story starts off normally enough. Ghosn, a Brazilian native who grew up in Lebanon, was the head of the automaker group Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi. In Nov. 2018, however, he was arrested in Japan on charges for financial misconduct. He allegedly underreported his salary (by as much as 44 million dollars) and misused company funds for personal use (for example, Nissan paid for his houses in four different countries without any business-related explanation).

These allegations aren’t unbelievable by any stretch of the imagination, as this is the kind of white-collar crime we come to expect from rich executives. But Ghosn has maintained his innocence the entire time.

In March 2019, Ghosn was granted bail (a whopping $14 million) though it came with very strict conditions. He was allowed to stay in his Tokyo home while he awaited trail, but it was under surveillance that would be regularly monitored. He wasn’t allowed cell phone internet access and could only use computers at his lawyer’s office. He also had to surrender his three passports since he wasn’t allowed to leave the country either.

But the end of December is where the story starts sounding like a movie instead of a run-of-the-mill embezzlement case.

Instead of staying in Japan to continue awaiting his trial (which was scheduled for April 2020), Ghosn secretly plotted a successful escape to Lebanon.

The escape was both simple and absurd.

Surveillance footage shows Ghosn casually strolling out of his house on Dec. 29. He met up with two men at a nearby hotel. More security cameras show the three of them taking a train from Tokyo to Osaka, arriving at another hotel. That evening, the two men departed for the nearby Kansai International Airport without Ghosn but carrying two large containers.

Because the containers were too large to fit through the airport’s X-ray scanners and the men were taking a private jet to Turkey, the containers weren’t scanned or even opened up. They told customs officials that there was music-related audio equipment inside.

Ghosn’s current presence in Lebanon seems to suggest he was actually inside one of the containers, and that’s how he managed to slip out of Japan undetected.

Turkish authorities have already arrested several people who allegedly helped smuggle him back to Lebanon.

I can already envision the inevitable Hollywood movie based off this story, which will make this escape even more dramatic.

Ghosn’s spokesperson released a statement which said, “I will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.”

The fugitive also personally spoke with reporters in Lebanon this week to explain he fled because he didn’t think he’d receive a fair trial. He also accused other Nissan executives of plotting to remove him from the company.

There’s no extradition agreement between Japan and Lebanon, so no one is quite sure yet what will happen next.

So is this a case of a millionaire easily escaping justice for his crimes? Or an innocent person using the only available method to run away from potential injustice? I can’t say for certain (though I’m more inclined to believe the first option). Either way, it’s a real-life story that feels ripped from the pages of a vaguely interesting crime novel.

Like I said earlier, life can often be weirder than any fictional story, especially when one needs to get creative with the travel methods.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.