Lebanese Split over Hosting Ghosn: ‘Proud’ or ‘Shameful’?

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) is seen on the outskirts of Beirut on Dec. 22.

BEIRUT — Opinion is divided among the Lebanese people regarding former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn, 66, who fled to Lebanon after being indicted on suspicion of violating the Companies Law and other charges.

Ghosn was born in Brazil and lived in Lebanon for about 10 years from the age of 6. He also has Lebanese citizenship.

Among the rich and privileged of that nation, expectations still run high regarding the management abilities of Ghosn, who helped Nissan Motor get back on its feet.

The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) is a prestigious private Catholic university located about 15 kilometers north of Beirut. Ghosn is scheduled to teach a business course at this university from next March.

The course is aimed at corporate managers, and Ghosn will also have the opportunity to offer individual advice to the students. The university contacted Ghosn regarding the scheduled course.

Danielle Khalife, dean of the Business School at USEK, emphasized: “There is no room to doubt his performance record. And we simply cannot leave his rich knowledge unutilized.”

Ghosn was indicted on charges including misappropriating Nissan funds and is still being charged with crimes. Interpol issued a wanted notice for Ghosn, in response to Japan’s requests for extradition.

However, this does not bother Joseph Assad, the dean of the School of Engineering at USEK. “He is innocent until proven guilty, and is a Lebanese citizen whom we are proud of,” Assad said.

■ ‘The fugitive’

One year has passed since Ghosn fled to Lebanon, and ordinary citizens in Lebanon view cases of corruption and bribery ever more critically.

Lebanon plunged into default on its debt in March this year. In August, a massive explosion occurred at the port of Beirut. Feeling that the country’s economic plight and social turmoil have resulted from political negligence and corruption, the Lebanese people forced former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab to step down.

The U.S. Treasury Department in November sanctioned former Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil for his role in corruption in Lebanon, including using his political power to have a company closely linked to him win contracts for public works. Bassil, a son-in-law of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, is known as a supporter of Ghosn.

TV news reporter Ahmad Yassine said harshly: “Ghosn is a fugitive who has betrayed the trust of Japan and broken the law. Corrupt politicians in Lebanon are hiding Ghosn to make use of his wealth and reputation. It’s a shameful act.”

The jobless rate in Lebanon exceeds 40 percent, with more than half the population forced to live in poverty. Samy Soloh, a 41-year-old engineer who is preparing to live abroad said coldly: “I have no interest in Ghosn. I’m busy thinking of my future and my family.”

■ Imminent investigation

“Ghosn is determined not to venture one foot out of Lebanon,” said a businessperson acquaintance of Ghosn’s who regularly meets with him.

Ghosn is likely to be detained if he leaves Lebanon, so it would be difficult to meet with his relatives living abroad. He is said to talk on the phone for about one hour every day with relatives in Brazil. The acquaintance said Ghosn has gained some peace of mind from walking in mountains in northern Lebanon with his 53-year-old wife Carole Nahas. A warrant for suspected perjury has been issued for Carole.

Ghosn is concerned about the current turmoil in Lebanon, but his acquaintance said, “Considering his position, he appears to be careful not to make any criticism.”

Investigations into Ghosn are progressing in France as well.

French prosecutors are examining such allegations as suspicious payments made out of leading French automaker Renault S.A., where Ghosn served as chairman, to a car dealership in Oman. They are also looking into the alleged misappropriation of Renault funds for expenses related to Ghosn’s wedding reception at the Palace of Versailles.

According to a diplomatic source in Lebanon, investigators from France are expected to visit Lebanon in mid-January, and question Ghosn. An agent handling public relations for Ghosn responded on Dec. 28 to a Yomiuri Shimbun inquiry, saying, “He agrees to the questioning.”

Ghosn will also be investigated by French authorities for his suspected evasion of taxes. According to French media, taxation authorities have already seized the assets owned in France by Ghosn and Carole, worth €13 million (about ¥1.64 billion).