Who is Carlos Ghosn?

In Japan, the car industry titan gained superstar status for saving Nissan but his fall from grace has been steep

The very public arrest of Carlos Ghosn moments after his private jet landed at Tokyo’s Haneda airport in November 2018 sent shockwaves through the corporate world.

It was a steep fall from grace for the titan of the global car industry, the man who revived the fortunes of Japan’s Nissan and Renault of France, forging an alliance with Mitsubishi that created the world’s second-largest car manufacturer. He chaired all three companies simultaneously and was also chief executive of Renault.

In Japan, where foreign company bosses are rare, Ghosn achieved superstar status for revitalising Nissan – his hero status was such that his life was serialised in a manga comic book. His face has graced Japanese bento lunch boxes as well as Lebanese stamps.

Born in Brazil to Lebanese immigrant parents, 65 year-old Ghosn (pronounced to rhyme with “phone”) also holds French and Lebanese passports. After spending time in Beirut as a child, he studied at the prestigious École Polytechnique in Paris before joining Michelin. He spent the first 18 years of his career at the French tyre manufacturer. Ghosn was poached by Renault in 1996, where he was nicknamed “Le Cost Killer” for his brutal restructuring programme.

He repeated that at Nissan after Renault took a 43.4% stake in the company in 1999, cementing his status as one of the world’s most successful business leaders. Former DaimlerChrysler chair Jürgen Schrempp gave Ghosn another moniker, the “icebreaker”, for his ability to cut through inflexible Japanese business practices and return Nissan to profitability within a year.

Ghosn bound together Renault and Nissan in an alliance, later joined by Mitsubishi, another Japanese corporate touchstone, that allowed the companies to share costs and components. An unusual criss-cross of shareholdings tied the companies together without merging them, but Ghosn claimed that fears he was pushing for a full merger with Nissan as a junior partner were behind his eventual ousting.

(November 19, 2018) 

Ghosn is arrested by Japanese police at a Tokyo airport upon arrival in his private jet. This follows the arrest hours before of Nissan board member Greg Kelly, a key ally of Ghosn’s. Both are sent to a detention centre in Tokyo. Nissan and Mitsubishi say they will both remove Ghosn as chairman.

(November 26, 2018) 

Misubishi sacks Ghosn as chairman, following a similar move by Nissan.

(December 10, 2018) 

Prosecutors add to the charges against Ghosn and Kelly, who are accused of underreporting Ghosn’s income over five years to 2015. They are are rearrested on allegations of understating Ghosn’s income for three more years to March 2018.

(December 13, 2018) 

Renault initially decides to retain Ghosn as chairman and chief executive after finding no irregularities in his pay packages.

(December 21, 2018) 

Ghosn is re-arrested on allegations of aggravated breach of trust, accused of shifting personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008. The legal team for Kelly, who suffers from spinal stenosis and needs surgery, requests his release on bail, which is granted on 24 December after he pays 70 million yen (£507,025) in cash.

(January 8, 2019) 

Ghosn proclaims his innocence during a court hearing, his first public appearance following his arrest. A judge says his continued detention is necessary due to flight risk and the possibility he could conceal evidence.

(January 18, 2019) 

Nissan and Mitsubishi accuse Ghosn of receiving €7.8m (£6.9m) in “improper payments” from a joint venture between the Japanese carmakers.

(January 24, 2019) 

Renault appoints Jean-Dominique Senard as chairman and Thierry Bolloré as chief executive after Ghosn resigns from both roles.

(January 30, 2019) 

Ghosn accuses Nissan executives of a plot to oust him and prevent closer ties with Renault, in his first interview since his arrest in November.

(February 13, 2019) 

Renault’s board of directors votes unanimously to strip Ghosn of up to €30m (£26m) in pay and severance.

(March 6, 2019) 

Ghosn is released on bail and must live under strict bail conditions in Tokyo until his trial begins. His lawyer Motonari Otsuru quits.

(April 5, 2019) 

Ghosn is re-arrested.

(April 8, 2019) 

Nissan shareholders sack Ghosn from the company board and replace him with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. A day later Ghosn accuses Nissan executives of conspiring against him in a video.

(April 11, 2019) 

Ghosn’s lawyers condemn his latest arrest as “inhuman”, saying that it has interrupted the former Nissan chairman’s treatment for chronic kidney failure.

(April 25, 2019) 

A court in Japan grants $4.5m bail to Ghosn but he must stay in Japan and is not allowed to meet his wife, Carole, without the court’s permission.

(December 31, 2019) 

Ghosn flees court-imposed bail ahead of his trial and arrives in Lebanon. He issues a statement in which he says he will “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed”. His escape is believed to have involved him being hidden in a musical instrument case that was then flown out of the country.

Julia Kollewe

The alliance installed Ghosn as head of the world’s second largest carmaker, giving him political power across the world, in Japan, France and wherever its factories were located.

That included the UK, where Nissan’s Sunderland factory took centre stage in the Brexit debate after Ghosn warned that future investment remained dependent on the trade deal with the EU. Ghosn met then the prime minister, Theresa May, to discuss the plant, eventually securing £61m in secret state aid.

Ghosn faces four charges of financial misconduct if he ever returns to Japan, including understating his pay and misusing company assets. While awaiting trial, he spent more than 120 days in detention before being released on bail for a second time in late April. His treatment drew international criticism.

The outstanding charges mean Ghosn will have to carefully judge the legal risks of leaving Lebanon. However, Japan only has extradition treaties with the US and South Korea.

In the meantime, Ghosn will be able to enjoy relative freedom in the home country of his parents and his wife, Carole. While he will almost certainly forgo $9m (£6.8m) in bail paid in Japan, Ghosn – who faced repeated criticism for pay packets perceived as excessive – will be able to fall back on an estimated net worth of $120m – including an expensive Beirut mansion and a stake in a Lebanese vineyard a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea.


Julia Kollewe and Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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