Who Carlos Ghosn is, and how he escaped house arrest in Japan

Ghosn, former head of Nissan, was accused of underreporting his earnings and was under trial in Japan.

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Carlos Ghosn in Davos in 2018 | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Carlos Ghosn in Davos in 2018 | Photo: Simon Dawson | Bloomberg

New Delhi: Carlos Ghosn, the multi-millionaire former head of autmobile company Nissan, arrived in Lebanon on the New Year’s Eve, creating a stir across the world. Ghosn had managed to escape from court-mandated house arresting in Japan, where he was being tried for underreporting his earnings and misuse of company assets.

Beginning from November 2018, in about 12 months, Ghosn went from the man responsible for reviving the struggling Japanese carmaker Nissan to an international fugitive.

The automobile titan 

Born to Lebanese parents in Brazil, Ghosn was exposed to multi-cultural settings from an early age. He moved back to Lebanon with his mother, at the age of six and went on to study for two engineering degrees in Paris, France.

Ghosn spent 18 years at the leading French tiremaker company Michelin, before he joined Renault in 1996. At Renault, he was made the CEO of the company’s loss-making South America division and was tasked with reviving it.

“The division’s radical overhaul — and return to profitability — earned him a nickname that has stuck: Le Cost Killer,” notes BBC.

In the late 1990s, Renault had bought nearly 40 per cent stake in failing Japanese carmaker Nissan, and Ghosn was called over to help. In just a couple of years, he radically restructured the company.

“During the last decade, Mr Ghosn championed consolidation and alliances as the only way forward for a global motor industry that was sinking into recession and needed to tackle overcapacity,” adds BBC.

By 2016, Ghosn had helped stich up the world’s most valuable automobile alliance — which included Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Today, this alliance sells more than one in nine vehicles across the globe.

In a dramatic change of fortunes, in November 2018, Ghosn was accused of under-reporting his income and misappropriation of company assets. In April 2019, he paid close to $9 million for his bail and had been preparing for his trail.

Since then, he was forced to stay in a court-approved house and was monitored by a CCTV camera outside the house. Ghosn was not allowed to leave Japan.

Speculations regarding his escape

In a major development, Ghosn managed to flee Japan on 30 December 2019, leaving his own legal team “dumbfounded”.

After reaching Lebanon, Ghosn issued a statement that said, “I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”

Though what continues to puzzle everyone is how Ghosn managed to escape Japan. While the Japanese authorities have not come out with an official response, different news sources from leading dailies from the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times to Lebanon’s MTV, have all come up with their own accounts of the escape.

MTV states that a musical band had been performing at Ghosn’s house in Japan, and once the performance was over he escapade via a “large musical instrument case”. According to MTV, the case was taken to a local airport, before it was flown to Lebanon via Turkey — on a private jet. The channel also contends that a paramilitary group might have been involved in the process.

Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, says that a special team had been planning Ghosn’s escape for several months. The Financial Times reports that Ghosn allegedly had specialised teams that had been working in different countries to facilitate his escape.

Several reports also talk about how his wife, Carole Ghosn might have played a leading role in planning this elaborate escape. Ghosn has three passports — Japanese, French and Brazilian — and it is unclear which passport he used to enter Lebanon.

As there is no extradition treaty between Japan and Lebanon, it is unclear what will happen to Ghosn’s trial.

“Japan gives millions in aid to Lebanon and will likely want Mr Ghosn returned. But it will no doubt have to answer further questions about how such a high-profile suspect was able to get out of the country in the first place,” reports BBC.