Lebanon Seeks to Hold Trial Against Former Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi Exec.
Mr. Ghosn, the former chief of auto makers Renault, Nissan Motor Co., and Mitsubishi Motors recently fled Japan, where he faced charges for several financial crimes. He is now in Lebanon, hiw homeland and a country with no extradition treaty with Japan. Lebanese officials have indicated they won’t send the executive back to Tokyo, but said that if Japanese prosecutors turn over evidence, Lebanon could hold a trial. Lebanese law allows citizens to be prosecuted for crimes committed elsewhere if the offense is also a crime in Lebanon. Misappropriation of corporate funds—one of Japan’s charges against Mr. Ghosn—is a crime in Lebanon.
Japanese prosecutors have assured everyone he would get a fair trial, but Mr. Ghosn says the Japanese legal system convicts on more than 99% of its indictment.
“You cannot prosecute him if there is no case against him in Lebanon,” said Melhem Khalaf, head of the Beirut Bar Association. “The file has to come from Japan.”
Carlos Abou Jaoude, a lawyer for the former auto executive in Lebanon, said in an interview that Mr. Ghosn “has one priority: to prove his innocence. In order to prove his innocence, he needs to be tried by a fair legal system. He wants badly for the trial to take place.”
He said he hoped Japanese prosecutors would share their case with Lebanon. “If they are comfortable with their accusations and evidence, this is an opportunity for them to prove their case,” he said.
Japanese lawyers said there is little chance that will happen. “Mr. Ghosn was indicted because he was accused of violating the laws of Japan. From the perspective of national sovereignty, it is obvious that his guilt or innocence must be determined in the Japanese justice system,” said Taichi Yoshikai, a professor of law at Kokushikan University and a former prosecutor.
A trial in Lebanon would struggle to win global legitimacy. The courts are widely considered corrupt, believed to often allow wealthy and influential individuals to buy protection. The country placed 138 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2018, versus a ranking of 18 for Japan. That report said 65% of Lebanese citizens use social and personal connections when dealing with courts and called the phenomenon a “structural problem” that “poses a serious threat to…the rule of law.”
“Our system is corrupted. For sure in Japan it is more transparent,” said Ayman Raad, a Beirut-based lawyer who has represented protesters against government corruption.
Should a trial be held in Lebanon, it would be overseen by judges who could decide whether to make the proceedings public or private. Japanese lawyers and prosecutors wouldn’t be involved in prosecuting unless Japan requested access as part of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, an international treaty to which both Japan and Lebanon are signatories, legal experts said.
Even if Lebanese courts were to allow the prosecution of an alleged financial crime committed in Japan, other hurdles remain. “You would have the massive practical problem of trying to translate an entire prosecution from one system to another,” said Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a white-collar defense attorney at Dorsey & Whitney LLP.