Japan will veto Lebanon's $10 billion bailout request if decision-makers in the Middle Eastern nation don't deport former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, according to lawyers. He famously fled Japan, where he was under house arrest, and landed in Lebanon, where he was raised, by boarding a private jet in a box in 2019.
Ghosn's cunning plan — which he orchestrated with the help of a former Green Beret arrested in 2020 — was worthy of a James Bond movie, but it didn't take Lebanon's financial difficulties into account. Inflation is rising, unemployment is growing, food is becoming increasingly expensive and the country's public debt hovers in the vicinity of $90 billion. Banks are also running out of dollars, which the business sector pressingly needs to pay for imported goods. Government officials began negotiating the terms of a $10 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May 2020, and Ghosn may unexpectedly find himself in the middle of the talks.
Japan joined the IMF in 1952, and it has become one of the fund's big contributors. Its government has tirelessly tried to convince Lebanese officials to send Ghosn back to Tokyo so he can go on trial for financial misconduct, but its requests have been shot down or ignored. Although the two nations agreed to discuss the terms of a potential extradition treaty earlier in 2020, nothing has been signed yet and Lebanon is under no legal obligation to send Ghosn back. The looming bailout vote will give Japanese officials a golden opportunity to pry the executive out of Lebanon's hands.
"For Japan to agree on [the bailout], they want the Lebanese authorities to extradite Ghosn. Otherwise, they won't provide Lebanon with financial assistance," warned Sakher El Hachem, Nissan's legal representative in Lebanon, in an interview with Arab News. "If Japan vetoes Lebanon, the IMF won't give Lebanon money except after deporting Ghosn," he added. Ghosn's legal team hasn't commented on the matter, and neither has Japan.
There's no word yet on when IMF members will gather to decide whether to funnel $10 billion into the Lebanese economy. Writing on Twitter, spokesman Gerry Rice announced talks between the organization and authorities "thus far have been constructive." He added his team is trying to get a better understanding of how Lebanese decision-makers plan to use the money and end the recession, and noted the economic plan proposed is a good starting point. He made no mention of Renault-Nissan's former top executive, who remains free in spite of an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol in January 2020, four days after he escaped to Beirut via Istanbul.
Ghosn isn't the only hurdle Lebanese officials need to clear before they're eligible to receive a bailout. America is a major IMF contributor, and it could ask Lebanon to close its border with Syria before it receives a dime. Lebanon's failed electricity sector will certainly raise eyebrows, too. Residents run private generators to avoid regular blackouts, and the state-run utility company (Électricité du Liban) racks up an annual deficit sometimes measured in billions of dollars. The major reforms requested in 2018, when international donors gathered at the CEDRE conference in Paris pledged to inject $11 billion into the Lebanese economy, haven't been enacted yet.