ISTANBUL — Seven aviation workers including four pilots have been detained for questioning in Turkey over former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan where he was awaiting trial, Turkish officials said Thursday.
Ghosn, 65, was ousted from Nissan last year and accused of a series of financial misdeeds, including the alleged concealment of tens of millions of dollars in income. He was expected to stand trial in April but somehow managed to flee Japan, despite being under tight surveillance, showing up in Lebanon this week.
The news came as it emerged that Lebanese officials said they had received a “Red Notice” through the international policing organization Interpol, calling on them to arrest him.
The former auto chief was born in Brazil but holds a Lebanese passport and family ancestry as well as a home in Beirut.
It’s unclear how he managed to slip the net, but media reports said he traveled the 5,500 miles between Japan and Lebanon via Turkey. On Thursday, the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement that it had arrested seven people for questioning in connection with the investigation.
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These included four pilots of a “private airlines company,” the company manager and two ground staff, according to the statement, which only identified the people by their initials.
Also on Thursday, Lebanon’s justice minister, Albert Serhan, told The Associated Press that his country had received a Red Notice for Ghosn and that the country “will carry out its duties.” Previously Lebanese officials had said that he entered the country legally.
Red Notices are issued by one country to another via Interpol, which only passes them along and has no power to enforce the request. “A Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant,” Interpol points out on its website.
Reports, rumors and speculation have swirled as to how Ghosn made his escape. An unverified report by the Lebanese TV channel MTV claimed that he had been spirited away in a large musical instrument case, possibly for a double bass, after a band played at his home in Tokyo.
His lawyers say the allegations were trumped up in a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to prevent a fuller merger with Nissan’s alliance partner, Renault SA of France.
Before his downfall, Ghosn was one of the auto industry’s biggest stars, is credited with leading Nissan from near-bankruptcy to growth.
Even as he fell from grace internationally, Ghosn was still treated as a hero in Lebanon. Many here had long held hopes that he would one day play a bigger role in politics or would help rescue its failing economy.
He announced his arrival in the country in a statement via his representatives.
“I am now in Lebanon and 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,” he said. “I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
Aziz Akyavas reported from Istanbul and Alexander Smith reported from London.
Associated Press contributed.