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Lebanon imposes travel ban on ex-Nissan boss Ghosn

Decision by prosecutor also said to require businessman to keep authorities informed of his place of residence
It is unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan (Reuters)

A Lebanese prosecutor has imposed a travel ban on former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, judicial sources told the media on Thursday, after he was summoned over an Interpol warrant issued by Japan seeking his arrest on financial misconduct charges.

Ghosn, 65, fled Japan to Lebanon, his ancestral home, last month as he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies.

It is unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan.

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The decision issued by the prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Ouiedat, also requires Ghosn to keep the authorities informed of his place of residence, one of the sources said. 

Ghosn's questioning took place at Beirut's Justice Palace, the headquarters of the judiciary.

"He is very comfortable with the [judicial] path," his Beirut-based lawyer Carlos Abou Jaoude told Lebanese broadcaster MTV, adding that Ghosn was also comfortable himself "especially after what he went through".

One of the judicial sources said Ghosn would surrender his French passport to the Lebanese authorities later on Thursday.

The judicial authorities have also asked Japan for its file on Ghosn, including the charges against him, and will not question him again until the information is received, a Lebanese judicial source told the Reuters news agency.

There was no immediate comment from the prosecutor's office, Reuters said.

Ghosn said he will "fully cooperate" with Lebanon's judiciary in comments to broadcaster LBCI, a private television station in Lebanon, on Thursday.

'Proud to be Lebanese!'

Brazilian-born Ghosn said during a news conference in Beirut on Wednesday he had escaped to Lebanon to clear his name and was ready to stand trial anywhere he could get a fair hearing.

"I'm today proud to be Lebanese!" he said amid cheering from the audience, thanking the country for "standing with him" throughout this period.

"I thank the Lebanese authorities and citizens who never lost their faith in me," he added.

Ghosn said in the interest of not harming Lebanon's interests or its people, he would not name individuals from the Japanese government who played a role in "the plot" against him.

Asked if he would help Lebanon with its economic crisis, Ghosn said: "I'm not political and I don't have political ambitions... if an official asks for help, I will serve Lebanon, but not as an official or with a salary."

Ghosn refused to comment on whether he had met with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun after his arrival and whether he had been given the president's full endorsement, telling the reporter to ask the person in question (Aoun) about this.

Ghosn said he was ready to stay for a long time in Lebanon, which does not allow the extradition of its nationals, and a source close to the 65-year-old has said his legal team is pushing for him to be tried in the country.

Japanese anger

Japan's justice minister launched a rare and forceful public takedown of Ghosn following the news conference after the businessman blasted the country's legal system as allowing him "zero chance" of a fair trial.

Speaking in public for the first time since his escape, Ghosn said he had been treated "brutally" by Tokyo prosecutors. 

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He said they questioned him for up to eight hours a day without a lawyer present and tried to extract a confession out of him.

In an effort to undo Ghosn's attempt to sway public opinion in his favour, Justice Minister Masako Mori followed shortly with a statement, translated into English and French, and held a news conference after midnight and again around 9.30am. on Thursday morning to defend Japan's justice system.

"I decided to do this because defendant Ghosn was looking to justify his unlawful exit from Japan by propagating a false recognition of our justice system," she said at the second news conference.

"I felt that we needed to respond immediately to broadcast a correct understanding to people around the world."

Ghosn on Thursday told LBCI that it was natural that the Japanese would consider his words unconvincing and that Mori's comments were "ridiculous".

Israel visit

In addition to the Interpol warrant, Ghosn is being questioned over a formal legal complaint filed against him by a group of Lebanese lawyers who accuse him of "normalisation" with Israel over a visit he made there in 2008.

Ghosn said on Wednesday he had made the trip as a French citizen and an executive of Renault to sign a contract with a state-backed Israeli firm to sell electric vehicles, and had been obliged to go because the board had requested it.

He said he apologised for the trip and said he had not meant to hurt the people of Lebanon, which deems Israel an enemy state.

During the visit, Ghosn met Ehud Olmert, who was Israel's prime minister at the time of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Nearly 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, died in the conflict and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.