This is probably the most extended video we have ever shared here at InsideEVs. Believe us when we say we have listened to every minute of it. It was a story worth covering: the escape of Nissan’s EV spearhead, Carlos Ghosn, from Japan to Lebanon. If you think the getaway was worthy of a movie, you’ll remember many more of them with what he had to say.
Gallery: Carlos Ghosn Flees Japan And Accuses Country Of Holding Him Hostage
Ghosn’s description reminds us of Midnight Express. Or The Trial, based on a book from Franz Kafka. It starts not with an arrest at his private jet in the Tokyo airport on November 19, 2018, as the media reported. Ghosn said he went to a room where the prosecutor told him what he was being accused of.
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According to Ghosn, the charge was underreporting a compensation payment that was not fixed, was not decided, and was not paid. That is an accurate way of describing what Japanese prosecutors accuse him of doing. The difference is that the prosecutors view that as a fraud attempt. But how can there be a fraud on a payment still under discussion by the board of the company? Minority Report, anyone?
The executive also said that he could have tried to hide, but he didn’t. He went to Lebanon for logistics reasons: it is the closest country from Japan where he is a citizen. And Lebanon does not extradite its citizens, nor it has an extradition treaty with Nissan’s homeland.
Ghosn could have tried to disappear, which he didn’t. He called a press conference in which he said his main goal now is to clear his name.
“I would be willing to take trial anywhere I could have a fair one.”
He claimed he is innocent of all charges and that Japan’s legal system is not interested in the truth, but only in putting people accused of crimes in jail by “breaking their souls.”
The former Nissan CEO said he stayed in a tiny cell with no windows, had the right to take a bath only twice a week, and was interrogated eight hours a day whenever the prosecutors felt like doing it. That went on for all the time he was at the Kosuge detention center: more than 130 days.
According to Ghosn, prosecutors told him he should confess to end that or they would go after his family. These prosecutor’s statements would be recorded on tape. Nissan’s former CEO was forbidden to see his wife, which led him to say he was held hostage by the Japanese legal system. He would not have access to the documents that could prove he was innocent.
“A speedy trial is a human right. I could have to wait five years for a judgment. There was an endless search for new charges, and my lawyers in Japan could not tell me I would have a fair trial. I did not escape justice. I escaped injustice.”
Ghosn mentioned 99.4 percent of all criminal cases in Japan lead to convictions. That number is not disputed by anyone familiar with Japan’s justice. To CNN, he said his escape did not concern him much: with the perspective of dying in jail in Japan, he had very little to lose.
At the press conference, the executive made sure that his main motivation to escape was his wife, which could remind us of great love stories in the movies. Matrix – with Neo’s drive to be with Trinity – would be a good example.
“The judge was surprised I wanted to see my wife. For some, it may not look like punishment, but for me, they knew it was. They knew I love Carole, and she is a pillar for me. They said: ‘We’re going to put him on his knees.’ And they were right. They put me on my knees.”
Ghosn refused to say anything about how he escaped. Predictably, he had help and did not want to expose these people. Nor did he want to name any of the Japanese government figures that would be interested in his arrest not to stress Lebanon’s relations with Japan.
What he was not shy to say was that Hiroto Saikawa would be among the people interested in taking him down. The other former Nissan CEO would be about to be sacked due to poor performance little before Ghosn was arrested.
Saikawa would not have acted solely on his behalf. He would also have the goal to avoid Ghosn’s final target: to make the Alliance permanent. The Brazilian-French-Lebanese executive said he wanted Renault and Nissan only to have common shares under a holding company, but with independent managements.
He also mentioned he discussed including FCA in the Alliance with John Elkann and almost seemed to regret the fact that PSA managed to conclude what he was trying to prior to going to jail. Nissan reportedly blew the deal away, as it swept the Alliance.
Being the largest company among the three partners, Nissan did not want Renault to be in charge. Nor did its Japanese shareholders. For what Ghosn said, the Japanese government also did not wish Nissan to become a sort of French company, controlled by the French government as Renault is. Ghosn was arrested exactly when these plans became public.
That reinforces the idea that all this was the result of a plot. It was not specifically against Ghosn but rather against the mission he had.
In his press conference, he said Saikawa and the other executives that managed to put him in jail accomplished theirs. Not at guiding the company to a sweet spot but at killing the Alliance. It would be just a fantasy now. People would be trying to conduct it by consensus, and Ghosn believes consensus will just lead it nowhere.
“You have to show them the synergies, guide them to present results.”
Would that be the reason people started to say he was a “cold greedy dictator? Bob Lutz recently said that Ghosn had a god complex and suffered from the “CEO disease.”
Lutz also said he was a control freak and that he did not delegate things. Probably unaware of that, Ghosn said he did delegate. When he took over as Mitsubishi’s CEO, he nominated Saikawa as his successor. The board approved that, and Ghosn says it was one of his big mistakes.
Against the greed accusation, Ghosn said that, if he were greedy, he would have accepted Steven Rattner’s offer to be GM’s CEO. He would have better pay to help GM recover, but he claims to have declined that to remain at Nissan. That would have been another of his mistakes. Bob Lutz said GM declined to be part of the Alliance.
Whatever is true, Ghosn has a point when he mentions both Renault and Nissan were the only automakers to lose value in a growing market. While the competition in general had a 12 percent increase in their shares, Nissan lost 35 percent of its value. Lutz guesses that Ghosn was so imperial his subordinates hid terrible results. When he left, these results emerged, but would that be sustainable along the 17 years Ghosn was at the helm?
Another critical remark Ghosn makes is that if his accusations were true, Nissan would probably look like an improvised business and not a corporation. There is no big company today without robust compliance mechanisms, audits, and many levels of required approvals for everything.
Ghosn presented documents showing the alleged expenses he made without anyone’s knowledge were signed by the legal, finance, and compliance departments at Nissan and also by the board. More precisely, by Saikawa, in some cases.
The Brazilian-French-Lebanese executive promises more documents will be released and that more people will speak about what happened. Possibly people outside Japan and out of the reach of the Japanese courts, now under scrutiny due to unrealistic conviction rates and with a lot to explain to the world’s public opinion.
We just hope that the press does a better job than what it did at the press conference. It was deplorable to see the futile and irrelevant questions many had dared to ask there.
Why did no one ask why Ghosn is at Nissan’s mansion in Beirut? It does not look good for him to be in a property that is not his. Worse still: a place that he is accused of using for personal benefit.
Why didn’t the journalists dig deeper into the accusations made by Japanese prosecutors and preferred to insist on how Ghosn managed to escape? Or how he felt doing so? Or if the box was cozy?
That is probably why Ghosn left many journalists at the door. Even selecting who could ask him questions for being more factual, as he said, he had a room filled with them. Very few made questions that mattered. He was probably disappointed with the shallow level of inquiries he had. So were we.
We have no idea how this movie will end. If Ghosn is the bad guy or the character that manages to prove he is innocent after fighting hard for it. Whatever the outcome is, it promises to have a lot of twists before the conclusion. It will surely make us wonder what Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi would offer us in terms of EVs if Ghosn was still there.
It may even become a series of stories that merge to show us a bigger picture of what the automotive industry has turned into. At this point, making cars seems to be a small part of the whole business.