Shortly after fleeing house arrest in Japan where he was awaiting trial for alleged financial crimes to Beirut, Lebanon, former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has already attracted new legal attention, this time for a business trip he made to his new neighbor to the south back in 2008.
A little more than ten years ago, Renault and Nissan pinned their EV hopes on a battery-swap model pioneered by an Israeli tech entrepreneur named Shai Agassi called Better Place.
Better Place was a sort of “mobility company” before the term invaded the start-up world in earnest. The firm wasn’t going to sell cars, it was going to sell access to them on a subscription model they compared to mobile phone operators. It sounds weird now, but back in 2008 people were really excited about this thing. Charging pillars and battery-swap were going up across Israel and the first set of electric Renault Meganes even made it to drivers.
Things were so hopeful back then that Ghosn even paid them a visit, meeting with Agassi to sign a purchase agreement for Renault Fluence Z.E. electric cars for use with Better Place’s battery-swap infrastructure as well as to meet then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Then the company went under in 2013 (the same year Elon Musk showed us a Model S battery swap for the first and last time, funnily enough) and most of us forgot about the company, its partnership with Renault and Nissan, and Ghosn’s trip too.
I say most of us because a group of attorneys in Lebanon clearly had it on their mind when they submitted a formal complaint to the Lebanese Public Prosecutor’s office last week against Ghosn for making the visit.
According to a report in the Times of Israel, the complaint was submitted to Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury, who called Ghosn in for questioning on the subject of the trip.
You see, Lebanon is still technically at war with Israel, which occupied the southern part of the country after a war in 1982 up until 2000, and which fought a war against militant group and political party Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. Since then, things have been largely quiet along the border, but relations are near-nonexistent and a policy of non-normalization remains in force in Lebanon and the country bars its citizens from engaging in most forms of contact with the country, including visiting for business purposes.
According to Reuters, Ghosn apologized for making the trip during remarks he made to the press on Wednesday regarding the plethora of legal issues he currently faces, saying that he did not mean to offend the Lebanese people, explaining that he made the trip as a French citizen at the behest of the board of Renault.
The complaint against Ghosn is not the first time a Lebanese national with dual citizenship has been detained and questioned in connection with a visit to Israel. Three years ago, French-Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri faced similar scrutiny for filming a portion of a film in Israel as well.
Whether this snag will have lasting effects for Ghosn, who is rumored to be eying a role in policy in Lebanon, remains to be seen. Regardless, it seems as though Ghosn’s arrival in Beirut has been far more complicated than he might have expected.