Inside Carlos Ghosn's great escape
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One of Japan's most celebrated businessmen has become "the world's most famous fugitive," said Matthew Campbell at Bloomberg. On Dec. 29, Carlos Ghosn, the ousted leader of Nissan and Renault, pulled off a cinematic escape while awaiting trial on charges related to executive compensation and use of company resources. Ghosn felt he had been railroaded and held "hostage" by the Japanese legal system; believing that "his prospects of proving his innocence in Japan were dismal," he evaded guards at his home in Tokyo and hopped a bullet train to Osaka before boarding a private jet bound for Beirut. Ghosn's lawyers had taken his travel documents, but Ghosn — who is a citizen of Brazil, France, and Lebanon — had two French passports and was allowed to keep one in a case with a combination lock that could be easily cracked. A group of "between 10 and 15 people" worked for months on a plan for extraction, said Nick Kostov at The Wall Street Journal, one that included help from a former U.S. Green Beret. They "visited at least 10 Japanese airports" to find the weakest security measures. "Luggage too large for X-ray scanning is supposed to be opened by security staff," but one "large black box, generally used for concert equipment," must have eluded their notice. Ghosn was inside, and breathing, thanks to holes drilled in the bottom.
Apparently, that's what you buy the man under house arrest who has everything, said Jeffrey Goldfarb at BreakingViews. This is a guy who once threw himself "a Marie Antoinette–themed wedding and birthday bash" in Versailles. Now he has decamped from Japan to Lebanon, one of the world's most corrupt countries — where, amazingly, he's living in a mansion owned by Nissan. Ghosn claims that "he was taken down by Japanese executives and government officials who feared he would shepherd a French takeover of Nissan," said Josh Barro at New York Magazine. That might well be true, but it doesn't mean he's not guilty. Ghosn is accused of circumventing Nissan's board to pay himself more than $80 million. He seems to have felt that his deal with the company he ran was essentially "I save Nissan, you give me lots of money," and no one should look too closely at the details. In some places, such as the United States, where CEOs are paid a lot more, that sum might have raised no eyebrows. But it was "way out of step with Japanese norms" and laws about CEO pay.
Whatever Ghosn's shortcomings, he had kept "Nissan and Renault from coming apart at the seams," said Nick Kostov and Sean McLain at The Wall Street Journal. "Since Mr. Ghosn was arrested in November 2018, insiders at the companies said, the two partners, lacking a chief to impose order, have reverted to the corporate equivalent of a nasty and brutish state of nature." Now both companies look increasingly unviable; their shares are down by a third since Ghosn's arrest. Thank Japan's "notorious bureaucracy" for this fiasco, said William Pesek at The Washington Post. For all the talk of sweeping economic upgrades, Japan Inc. remains mired in obsolete ways of doing business, including a malicious "double standard — one for Japanese executives, another for non-Japanese" — that made Ghosn a target of the corporate establishment, which "had never seen a foreigner rise so high."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, try the magazine for a month here.