The first leg of Carlos Ghosn’s overnight trek from his Tokyo home to Beirut, before he reportedly climbed into a box to evade airport security, involved something much more prosaic: He got aboard an Osaka-bound bullet train, several Japanese media sources reported Monday.
His taking the trip on a public train would be another embarrassment for Japanese authorities, who Monday promised to tighten airport baggage inspections and the rules governing the release of criminal suspects on bail.
It is unclear if Mr. Ghosn – who is one of the most recognizable public figures in Japan – hid his appearance while on the bullet train, which has a maximum speed of about 285 kilometres an hour. The revelations came as authorities continued to investigate how the former auto executive eluded them and flew to Lebanon last week.
Mr. Ghosn, who is facing charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan, fled to Beirut, where he has a home and faces no extradition to Japan. He is also a citizen of France, where he spent most of his adult life.
Details of his trip, which began Dec. 29, are beginning to come to light. Mr. Ghosn left his home in central Tokyo by himself around 2:30 p.m. that day and walked approximately 820 metres to a hotel, where he met two men, according to NHK and Nikkei, which cited sources in the city prosecutor’s office and the Tokyo police.
The three then went to Tokyo’s Shinagawa railroad station – a major hub – and a little after 4:30 p.m., boarded a Shinkansen, or high-speed bullet train, for Osaka, about 550 kilometres southwest of the capital, the reports said. Once in Osaka, they entered a hotel near Kansai International Airport about 8 p.m. A couple of hours later, the two men left the hotel with two large boxes; Mr. Ghosn was not in sight, the reports said. They boarded a corporate jet with the boxes and flew to Istanbul.
Previous media reports have said that Mr. Ghosn evaded airport security measures by hiding in a box that was loaded on the plane.
From Istanbul, Mr. Ghosn reportedly got on a smaller plane and arrived in Beirut later on Dec. 30.
Lebanese officials have said he entered legally with a French passport and a Lebanese ID, so there was no reason to stop him at the border. But Monday, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, suggested that may not have been the case.
“As far as we know, he did not use French documents,” he told BFM TV.
Mr. Le Drian also said Mr. Ghosn had not asked to come to France.
“If he were to come to France, it would be up to French justice to deal with the situation, but for the moment, that question is not on the table,” he said.
The French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, appeared to harden the government’s stance on Mr. Ghosn, saying Monday that the executive should face justice in a court of law.
“When one is a defendant, one does not escape justice,” he told France Inter radio. “And Carlos Ghosn is a defendant like any other.”
Mr. Le Maire added that the French government was ready to open an investigation into $11-million in questionable expenses at the headquarters of the alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors while Mr. Ghosn headed the group. The expenses were identified in June during an internal audit carried out by Nissan and Renault, an alliance in which the French government holds a 15-per-cent stake.
At a news conference Monday, Masako Mori, Japan’s justice minister, said authorities were taking steps to bolster the scanning of luggage, though she declined to disclose details.
“Now, measures have been taken so that similar acts can’t be committed,” she said of the escape of Mr. Ghosn, who had been released on bail from a Japanese jail. Though her ministry is not responsible for baggage inspection, she said, different agencies are working to tighten control.
Ms. Mori also said the government would accelerate an existing review of how bail works in the country, including whether to require defendants to wear tracking wrist or ankle bracelets. Mr. Ghosn offered to wear one when he sought bail, but the court granted it without that requirement.
“We have been reviewing the current system,” Ms. Mori said. “We would like to swiftly advance the discussions on the matter, taking into account the recent escaping cases and the various opinions we have received.”
In leaving Japan, Mr. Ghosn forfeited 1.5 billion yen in bail, or about US$13.9-million.
Mr. Ghosn, the former chief of the Nissan-Renault auto alliance, has long denied the allegations of financial wrongdoing and insisted he had been set up by Nissan executives who were worried that he would further merge the operations of the Japanese automaker and Renault of France.
After he vanished from Tokyo last week, he appeared in Lebanon, saying in a statement he had been “held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system.”
Mr. Ghosn is expected to meet with reporters this week. On Monday, a host on Fox Business, Maria Bartiromo, said that she had spoken to Mr. Ghosn over the weekend and that he said he would present evidence that the criminal counts against him were an effort by Nissan and Japanese officials to prevent a merger with Renault – a charge he had made before.
Ms. Mori defended the country’s justice system as fair and open, with plenty of opportunities for Mr. Ghosn to defend himself.
“We acknowledge that there are various criticisms of Japan’s criminal justice procedures, but every country has a different criminal justice system,” she said. “It isn’t appropriate to simply focus on one part of the system when comparing it to other countries.”
The details of Mr. Ghosn’s escape are still emerging.
Mr. Ghosn was accompanied out of Japan by an American security consultant named Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, The New York Times reported on Friday, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Taylor, a well-known private-security contractor, has extensive contacts in Lebanon dating to the 1980s, when he was deployed to Beirut as part of a team of U.S. Special Forces that worked alongside Lebanese soldiers. He speaks Arabic, and Lebanese intermediaries connected him with Mr. Ghosn, according to a person familiar with the matter.
After his military career, Mr. Taylor founded American International Security Corp., which was hired by The Times to assist in the rescue of David Rohde, a reporter who was held captive by the Taliban in 2008 and 2009.
But his career collapsed in 2012, when prosecutors accused him of helping to orchestrate a bribery scheme to secure a Defence Department contract and then seeking to derail the subsequent investigation. Mr. Taylor disputed the most serious charges and eventually pleaded guilty to wire fraud and violating the Procurement Integrity Act. He spent about a year and a half behind bars before being released in 2015.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing an anonymous source, that Mr. Ghosn had been smuggled through the Kansai airport in a type of box often used for concert equipment. It said the terminal for private jets at that airport was essentially empty and that oversize luggage could not fit in the airport’s scanners.
A customs official at the airport, Akira Taniguchi, said that screening of luggage was done in two stages. In the first, a private security company using X-ray and other equipment checks whether there are items that are not allowed on board, such as guns or knives.
In the second stage, customs officials check whether the bags contain items that are not permitted to be brought into or taken out of Japan, such as drugs and some foods. They use X-ray machines, metal detectors, drug detectors and dogs for that step.
Asked if Mr. Ghosn had managed to elude these measures, the official said, “We cannot comment on this.”