Nothing like James Bond-cool ever happens in the auto industry. Until yesterday. If you haven’t been following the saga of Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi, you must not like mystery novels. There has been some crazy stuff going on with this whole episode, and it’s real. And, it’s happening to one of the top auto execs in the world.
We’ll get to the background in a bit but for you who are following the saga, Ghosn escaped imprisonment in Japan yesterday and fled to his home country of Lebanon. He was under house arrest in Japan and supposedly had three guards watching him at all times. So there are rumors about how he escaped.
Rumors are Ghosn escaped Japanese prison in a musical instrument case
One of those rumors is that he escaped in a musical instrument case. It had to have been something huge like a piano case if there is such a thing. Or an eight-foot tuba case. There actually is such a thing. We find it hard to believe he actually took these types of measures, but then the whole arrest, charges, and imprisonment of Carlos Ghosn have been hard to believe.
He also did not have any of his three passports. You need a passport to get in and out of Japan. His bail was set at over $13 million. So, sorry Carlos, but you just forfeited that. As he was deemed a flight risk he was under extreme surveillance. There were heavy restrictions on his use of phones and computers.
How did Carlos Ghosn manage to flee sight unseen?
Sequestered in a Tokyo apartment, he could not look out a window without his captors panicking. So how did he manage to get outside unseen and then board a private jet to flee Japan?
Supposedly a Gregorian music ensemble was allowed into his apartment for a private performance. That’s how a large music case got in and out of his apartment. With him inside, of course. But there are other rumors, too.
A French news agency is reporting Ghosn slipped out of Japan with a fake passport. Maybe he had one of those rubber noses with a mustache and glasses, too. One of his passports is French since he was head of Renault. Or, he used to be until he was fired shortly after his arrest in Japan.
Flight trackers clearly show Ghosn’s flights from Osaka, Japan to Turkey, and on to Beirut
You can see on flight trackers a private jet leaving Osaka, Japan, to Istanbul, Turkey. Soon after landing another was seen flying to Beirut, where Ghosn grew up. Oh, and in case you were wondering Lebanon has no extradition arrangement to other countries for Lebanese citizens. So it will not be handing him over to Japan.
The Japanese are not happy. Many are pointing fingers and not able to answer how someone watched so closely can just slip out of Japan like this. Others think it was arranged for both Ghosn and Japan to save face. If Japan had a motive beyond extortion as it claimed back in November 2018 when it first arrested Ghosn, it would be that it wanted to break the alliance between Renault and Nissan.
Back in 1999, before he became CEO of Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi, Ghosn was tasked with turning around Nissan as it was almost bankrupt. In two years he had successfully achieved that, becoming known as “Mr. Fixit.” He also was considered one of the best and brightest business leaders in the world.
Though he had stepped down from his role as Nissan CEO, he was still head of Renault/Nissan/ Mitsubishi, when he was arrested for under-reporting his salary and misusing company funds. By January he had been stripped of all titles and responsibilities for any of the companies.
He was charged with misappropriation of Nissan assets in April 2019. Residences in different countries, family vacations, and more than $18 million was said to have been used by Ghosn. There were shell companies used to move money around. His Beirut mansion renovations were said to have cost $15 million. Accusations of deferred payments of over $80 million were supposedly set up.
Ghosn was ready to fire Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa
Ghosn was ready to fire the head of Nissan and install a preferred executive when he was arrested. That person, Greg Kelly, was also arrested for the same crimes. On December 21, 2018, Ghosn was charged with shifting personal losses of $16 million to Nissan.
Internal investigations, raids conducted by the French government, seizure of properties and vacation houses owned by Ghosn, and more took place over the next few months. Questions about human rights violations to Ghosn by his wife and other forms of mistreatment were reported.
The SEC settled with Ghosn over claims he didn’t disclose over $140 million in payments to him from Nissan. He was fined $1 million, and Nissan $15 million. Kelly was fined $100,000 and was barred from serving as a director of a public company for five years.
Carlos Ghosn’s trial wasn’t set to start until spring 2020
The trial wasn’t going to start until the spring of 2020. Then yesterday the escape happened. Ghosn says he’ll have a press conference next week.
It was well known that the Japanese directors and others inside of the government were uncomfortable with Ghosn and the French government having a say in Nissan’s affairs. France owns a portion of Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi and has a say in most major moves the company makes. With the inevitable move to have Kelly become head of Nissan, removing Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa, it was another hostile move in Japan’s eyes.
So, the timing is interesting as it plays into the idea that Japan needed a way to get out from under Ghosn and Renault. The accusations by the Japanese government were one thing, but rebuttals by Ghosn and/or his lawyers were never allowed. With a press conference set for next week, we may see how strong or weak Japan’s accusations are.