Lebanon banned former auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn from travel Thursday and asked Japan to hand over his file on financial misconduct charges, as Tokyo urged the fugitive businessman to return.
The 65-year-old businessman -- for years venerated in Japan for turning around once-ailing Nissan -- fled while awaiting trial on charges including allegedly under-reporting his compensation to the tune of $85 million.
His shock arrival in his native Lebanon last month was the latest twist in a story worthy of a Hollywood plot and prompted outrage from the Japanese government as well as from Nissan.
A day after Ghosn made an impassioned defence in front world media of his decision to jump bail and flee Japan, Ghosn on Thursday morning gave testimony to Lebanese prosecutors over an Interpol "red notice" urging his arrest.
"The state prosecution issued a travel ban for Ghosn, and asked for his file from the Japanese authorities," a judicial source told AFP.
A second judicial source said Ghosn had been asked to hand over his French passport and had been banned from travelling abroad until his judicial file arrived from Japan.
"According to what is inside the file, if it appears that the crimes he is accused of in Japan require being pursued in Lebanon, he will be tried," the source added.
"But if it doesn't require being pursued under Lebanese law, then he will be free."
On Thursday afternoon, Ghosn told Lebanese media the travel ban was just a "routine" measure and he had not planned to travel anyway.
He slammed as "ridiculous" a call by Japan's justice minister for him to return to Japan to defend himself against charges of financial misconduct.
The Japanese "judicial system is completely backwards," he said in an interview with Lebanon's LBCI television channel.
"I will fully cooperate with the Lebanese judiciary, and I'm much more comfortable with it than with the Japanese judiciary."
Japan's Justice Minister Masako Mori earlier Thursday urged Carlos Ghosn to return and make his case in court in Japan.
"If defendant Ghosn has anything to say on his criminal case, he should make his argument in a Japanese court and present concrete evidence," she said.
"If he claims innocence, he should face a trial under the justice system in Japan, where he was doing business," Mori said.
Lebanon's judiciary received a "red notice" from Interpol last week urging Ghosn's arrest.
A "red notice" is a request to police across the world to provisionally detain a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action. It is not an arrest warrant.
But Japan and Lebanon don't have an extradition agreement.
Also on Thursday, Ghosn made a statement to prosecutors on a report submitted by Lebanese lawyers that he had travelled to neighbouring Israel as head of Renault-Nissan.
Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel, and forbids Lebanese from visiting or having contacts with the Jewish state.
At a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday, Ghosn apologised to the Lebanese people for having visited the country in 2008 to sign a deal to produce electric vehicles.
"I went as a Frenchman because of a contract between Renault and an Israeli company," said Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian nationalities.
"I always come back to Lebanon and nothing has ever happened before," he said.
At his first public appearance since his escape to Lebanon, he said Wednesday he had been forced to flee Japan because he would not get a fair trial.
He faces four charges of financial misconduct in Tokyo, which he alleges were cooked up by disgruntled executives at Nissan in collusion with Japanese prosecutors.
Japan's justice minister said the claims were "baseless".
Ghosn spent more than 100 days in detention in Japan after his sudden November 2018 arrest, but was out on bail in Tokyo when he launched his audacious escape plan.
He said he decided to flee when his lawyers told him it could take five years for a verdict, and because of strict restrictions on contacting his wife.
Prosecutors in Tokyo this week obtained an arrest warrant for his wife Carole, who is also in Lebanon, alleging she lied to a Japanese court.
Ghosn has refused to shed any light on how he managed to slip past authorities and flee Japan at the end of December -- an astonishing feat given his high-profile status and the restrictions he faced.
Under his bail terms, his passports were confiscated, his home monitored and his internet access limited to a computer at his lawyer's office.