Carlos Ghosn, the former head of automobile giants Nissan and Renault, is arguably the most famous fugitive in the world.
Despite his fame, the seriousness of the charges against him and the brazen nature of his escape from Japan — a country with a modern criminal justice system, despite Ghosn’s criticism — Ghosn won’t necessarily be forced to return to Tokyo to face trial.
Would a foreign country extradite Ghosn?
Lebanon, the nation to which the auto executive fled, does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. Ghosn, who was born in Brazil but has Lebanese ancestry, is a Lebanese citizen.
In an interview with the Associated Press published Thursday, Lebanon’s justice minister, Albert Serhan, said that Ghosn had entered the country legally on a French passport.
“Lebanese authorities have no security or judiciary charges against him, he entered the border like any other Lebanese using a legal passport,” Serhan said.
France is not likely to extradite the 65-year-old to Tokyo, either. Ghosn lived and studied in France and picked up French citizenship, effectively stopping the possibility in the French government’s eyes.
“If Mr. Ghosn comes in France, we will not extradite Mr. Ghosn, because France never extradites its nationals. So we will apply to Mr. Ghosn, like everyone, the same rules of the game,” French junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told TV station BFM on Thursday.
Why wouldn’t Lebanon or France extradite Ghosn?
In international law, the accepted consensus is that a state does not have to surrender an alleged criminal to another state, as doing so would be a break in its own legal sovereignty.
However, many states have extradition treaties with other nations that set out certain circumstances when extradition can take place. While Lebanon does have such treaties with foreign nations, it does not have any in place with Japan.
In addition, Lebanon’s laws state that citizens of the country are not to be extradited but that Lebanese citizens should instead be tried under the Lebanese legal system.
Ghosn also holds Brazilian citizenship. However, Brazil also refuses to extradite its citizens.
Is this unusual?
Opposition to extradition of citizens is not unusual globally. A 2013 study by the Global Legal Research Center at the Law Library of Congress found that 60 of 157 countries it looked at would not allow the extradition of a citizen, compared with 31 that generally allowed the extradition.
The United States has extradition treaties with about 100 nations, and it has long argued against rules that prohibit nationals of a foreign country being refused extradition.
What about Interpol?
The International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, is designed to facilitate the cooperation of different police systems; Japan is a member, as are Lebanon and France.
Japan issued a “red notice” through Interpol on Thursday, informing other nations that it was seeking Ghosn for arrest. Justice Minister Serhan confirmed in his interview with the AP that Lebanon had received the notice and said Lebanon would comply with any legal measures.
“We are a country of law and respect the law and … I can confirm that the Lebanese state will implement the law,” he said. “The prosecution will not stay cross-armed regarding this red notice.”
But Interpol cannot compel a state to arrest someone, even if a red notice has been given, and some experts say that Ghosn’s economic and political sway in Lebanon make it unlikely he would be detained, let alone extradited.
Does this mean Ghosn can travel freely?
No. Different states have different standards for extradition; some may have extradition treaties with Japan, and in many he would not be a citizen, limiting his legal protection. Many countries also have prized diplomatic and economic relations with Japan.
Turkey has launched an investigation after news reports suggested that Ghosn had traveled via the country, detaining seven aviation workers for questioning on Thursday.
What more can Japan do?
Ghosn’s escape is embarrassing for the Japanese government, not only undermining its legal system but also raising serious questions about border control. As defendants in Japan are typically required to appear in court, it may mean that the legal case against the businessman falls apart.
Even if it uses its diplomatic clout to push Lebanon, Japan may find its calls for extradition ultimately fall on deaf ears. Japan’s only recourse at the moment looks to be financial: On New Year’s Eve, a court announced that Ghosn’s $14 million bail was being confiscated.