Ghosn plays cat-and-mouse game in Lebanese capital

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In Lebanon, Ghosn is a free citizen, presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law, and there are no criminal proceedings against him internally. (Supplied)
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In Lebanon, Ghosn is a free citizen, presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law, and there are no criminal proceedings against him internally. (Supplied)
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In Lebanon, Ghosn is a free citizen, presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law, and there are no criminal proceedings against him internally. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2020

Ghosn plays cat-and-mouse game in Lebanese capital

  • Japan, as well as France, each building a criminal case against Ghosn, may well be asking the Lebanese government to extradite him
  • By law, Lebanon has to temporarily hold and question Ghosn, but does not have to hand him over to Interpol or to extradite him anywhere

It was a busy day at the pink-painted Nissan-owned private residence in Beirut’s upmarket Achrafieh neighborhood, where Carlos Ghosn, Japan’s most wanted fugitive, was thought to have taken refuge after fleeing the country “Mission: Impossible” style.

The Thursday morning peace in the normally sedate Rue du Liban (Lebanon Street) was shattered by the Lebanese justice minister’s statement that Interpol had issued a red notice against Ghosn, a direct request for the Lebanese authorities to detain and interrogate him and/or temporarily hold him until Interpol could quiz him.

By law, Lebanon has to temporarily hold and question Ghosn, but does not have to hand him over to Interpol or to extradite him anywhere. In fact, Lebanon has never extradited any of its citizens, opting for trial in their homeland under Lebanese laws.

In Lebanon, Ghosn is a free citizen, presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law, and there are no criminal proceedings against him internally.

Japan, as well as France, each building a criminal case against Ghosn, may well be asking the Lebanese government to extradite him to be tried for alleged financial misconduct including accusations of using company assets for personal benefit, and tax evasion.

Ghosn, the former chief of Nissan and Renault, or at least his family, are currently squatting at a house owned by Nissan, the company that cut him off and helped construct the legal case against him in Japan.

Contractually, Ghosn and his family had the right to stay at the company-owned property while he worked there. After being ousted, Nissan launched legal moves to have Ghosn and other occupants, namely his in-laws, removed from the premises.

However, Carol Nahas, Ghosn’s second wife, succeeded in receiving a court order last year, shortly before her husband was ousted, allowing her to stay in the house since his trial was yet to be determined in Japan. That was, until he fled.

Nissan’s lawyer, Sakher Hachem, told Arab News Japan that there “will be a hearing on Jan. 13 to determine the legality of the Ghosn family’s presence.”

Hachem added: “He is no longer part of the company, so he is not entitled to stay in a company-owned asset.”

No matter what the case is, the Ghosn’s presence in Nissan’s house is perhaps the utmost provocation that the “cost killer” had dealt to the company since it cut him off.

Nissan had long assigned a security company to monitor the house, which Nahas had lavishly decorated with Nissan money, purportedly splashing out as much as $6 million on furniture and renovation work, and a whopping $74,000 for two magnificent chandeliers. The house was originally bought for $8.8 million. It is believed that the security is not to keep the residents safe, but rather to prevent any of the prized items being removed from the house.

Dozens of foreign and local reporters and television channels have been camped on the tight street’s sidewalks braving cold rain to monitor the comings and goings at the three-storey villa.

Nahas, who is believed to have been the cause of his changed lifestyle to a lavish spender over the past couple of years, arrived at the house on Thursday morning in a rented vehicle, a GMC, not a Nissan.

Shortly after, an unknown man spent less than half-an-hour at the property telling reporters as he left that he was a “general health doctor” who had visited “to check on Carol’s son.”

An hour later, Mario Saradar, president and CEO of Saradar Group, entered the house. Ghosn is a shareholder in the group (a family-owned business which has been at the center of Lebanese banking for more than 60 years) with a stake of nearly 4.6 percent.

Ghosn is believed to be staying at a friend’s house nearby. So far, he has evaded the Japanese authorities since pulling his Hollywood-style stunt to flee the country.

Meanwhile, Ghosn is expected to hold a press conference on Jan. 8 after being denied the opportunity while in Japan.


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”