It turns out life is like the movies – at least a little bit. But movies focus on the drama and action and skip the consequences and court cases. Carlos Ghosn is in the news this week. Before now, you likely only knew his name if you follow corporate executives. Even before his current fiasco, he was a newsworthy figure as a former CEO at Nissan. But everything changed when he was arrested in late 2018. In 2020, the story went from interesting to wild, when he fled Japan in a heist movie plot that involved trains, planes and hiding inside a box with airholes.
Mr. Ghosn is currently in Lebanon and telling his side of the story to the press. Meanwhile, Japan is threatening to arrest his wife for playing a role in the escape.
Ghosn’s story begins long before his arrest. In short, foreign executives of Japanese countries are rare, and there are previous examples where new leaders have experienced cultural challenges as they perform their jobs. Concepts of pay scale, careers, and corporate models differ from country to country.
Ghosn took charge of Nissan through a partnership between Renault, Mitsubishi and Nissan. Coming from Renault, he revived the company, but in recent years many have complained about his leadership style. In 2018, he was arrested for financial misconduct. Ghosn, on bail until his recent flight, claims he’s innocent – that he was set up to oust him from the company.
Why did he flee?
Now that he’s in Lebanon, Ghosn is talking to the press, saying he fled Japan because the system is stacked against him. He cites a 99% conviction rate in the country’s judicial system to illustrate his claim. Since 2018, he’s been on bail awaiting the formal process. A condition of his bail is that he cannot talk to his wife, which is itself an unusual punishment to most Westerners.
Ghosn says he wants to clear his name, but he couldn’t do so in Japan. Instead, he planned an elaborate and illegal getaway to Lebanon, one of the countries where he holds citizenship. Lebanon does not have an extradition deal with Japan, which means they cannot simply demand his return.
It’s a dramatic story that’s different than the typical news cycle of political arguments, natural disasters and tragedies. If Ghosn is guilty of the charges, his escape may have freed him from serving punishment. If he’s innocent, as he claims, he’s pointing a spotlight at injustice.
There’s a lot of risk to fleeing criminal charges. He now risks additional charges if he is returned to Japan. Furthermore, many people view flight as a sign of guilt. He counterargues that he could not be found innocent by a corrupt justice system. As spectators, we don’t know who to believe.
There are additional cultural issues that will arise, though. This puts a bright spotlight on Japan’s judicial system and corporate environment – which will inevitably make it harder for Japanese companies to recruit foreign talent. There are also several criminal charges from the situation, affecting people other than Ghosn himself. His wife may face charges, and at least seven people have been detained relating to his getaway.
As of right now, Mr. Ghosn is a free man in Lebanon, crusading for justice (as he puts it). In truth, everyone who has crossed his path is under legal scrutiny. Life is sort of like the movies, except that a lot of accomplices are facing allegations and there is no ending in sight – just more drama.