It’s been a crazy couple of years for Nissan’s former CEO Carlos Ghosn, and an even crazier past several days considering that he’s just absconded from Japanese house arrest, crossed international borders, and ended up five thousand miles away in the safety of the non-extradition country of Lebanon.
One could say Ghosn’s troubles began in November of 2018 when he was first arrested on charges of false accounting upon arrival by plane to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Since then it’s become obvious that the conspiracy against him must’ve started much earlier, and also must’ve included many members of Nissan’s inner circle – as well as Japanese prosecutors. Is Ghosn guilty of lining his own pockets with inappropriate expenditures of company funds, or is he being railroaded by a rigged Japanese legal system in cahoots with the Nissan Group zaibatsu?
This story actually begins much earlier, during the early twentieth century when the economy of industrializing Japan had evolved to be controlled by large and powerful family-owned monopolistic organizations called zaibatsu. Some zaibatsu of this period could even trace their roots back to far earlier eras of Japan’s history; this effectively resulted in zaibatsu having untold power and influence by the time of the reign of The Empire of Japan leading up to and during WWII.
Nissan is one of the companies that existed as a zaibatsu starting in 1928, and it stands to reason that in present day, Nissan might continue to operate by certain deep-rooted traditional (and nationalistic) principles advantageous to itself – such as ousting a CEO that had significantly altered the balance of power between a storied historical Japanese conglomerate and the French company of Renault. For better or for worse, Japan remains until this day one of the most racially homogeneous nations in the world, and the Japanese are historically unapologetic regarding their opinions and actions when it comes to foreigners or foreign influence within the land of the rising sun. It’s hardly a far-fetched concept that Nissan would not want a gaijin (外人 – alien/outsider) firm like Renault to embarrassingly be able to assert too much power within the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance.
There are rumors that senior Nissan and government officials had become displeased with the measures Ghosn had taken over the past seventeen years as part of restructuring various aspects of Nissan and its relationships with Renault and Mitsubishi in order to bring it back to profitability. Those measures had widely been received as successful, with Ghosn being awarded Asia Businessman of the Year by Fortune magazine in 2002, and Man of the Year by Fortune Asia in 2003.
Apparently, these accolades and the successful turn around of Nissan’s financial woes weren’t enough to keep Ghosn in favor in the long term – how can the disparity be bridged between the highs of Ghosn’s career and the lows of being arrested and criminally charged? The answer most likely lies somewhere in the complexities of Japanese politics and the desire in Japan for Japanese corporations to be controlled by…the Japanese (not for instance say…the French).
Some would say that the Nissan Group zaibatsu that began in 1928 no longer exists in the same form today, and therefore that the type of nationalistic conspiracy required in order to dismantle Carlos Ghosn’s career and reverse the policies enacted under his direction as CEO of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance couldn’t in fact happen in modern Japan…
Whilst it is indeed true that the zaibatsu were dismantled in post-WWII era Japan as part of mandatory changes implemented by the United States, it wasn’t long before a similar system emerged which could really be considered as a further evolved model of the zaibatsu – the keiretsu system.
It was under the keiretsu-dominated economy that Japan rose as an economic powerhouse through the 1980’s and it is the keiretsu system that still reigns supreme in Japan today. Keiretsu do have key structural differences and aren’t as similar to oligarch-type organizations as the zaibatsu were, however they do still involve various horizontal and vertical integrations such as zaibatsu utilized and their components work together to ensure the success of the keiretsu overall. In effect, portions of modern day Japan’s economy still operate in a very similar manner as in the zaibatsu era, and this combined with the innate nationalism of such a system along with Japan’s historically nationalistic behaviors overall could most certainly help to explain a conspiracy against Carlos Ghosn and a desire to alter Renault’s position in the alliance.
What has all of this meant for Ghosn? Not only has he been painted by Nissan and the Japanese legal system as a thieving villain – plundering Nissan accounts to fuel his lifestyle – but he’s also been arrested and incarcerated twice, and confined to house arrest with his passports confiscated. He’s effectively been unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion as a result of the efforts of the Japanese, who even pressured French prosecutors to launch an investigation from their side as well.
Is this what the man who effectively rescued Nissan and Renault from their lackluster mid-90’s levels of performance and elevated them to their current successful positions in the industry (with Nissan’s electric Leaf dominating EV market share even over Tesla)? It seems the Japanese aren’t very good at saying “thanks” to someone who devoted seventeen years of his life to fixing one of their oldest zaibatsu/keiretsu corporations…
Facing an obvious crucifixion in an obviously rigged Japanese legal system, Ghosn did the only thing he could do in order to hope to achieve any sort of justice and finally remove himself from being shuttled in and out of Japanese jails and house arrest – he skipped bail and fled. What’s most interesting however is that not only was he able to first get out of the island nation, but that he was able to covertly get all the way to Lebanon, a country which has been kind to him as of late and is more than willing to house a wealthy man of Arab descent (his grandfather was born in Lebanon). Extradition is currently not even a remote possibility, and Ghosn could spend no doubt the rest of his life there if he so chooses, but could also wait out the current witch hunt until a fair trial could perhaps be held in a safe and international (and impartial) location.
What’s next in store for Ghosn? Will he forever remain in Lebanon in order to avoid unfair persecution at the betraying hands of his former team at Nissan, spending the rest of his life on the lam…or will he eventually get his day in court – one that can promise due process and a fair shake? Like the rest of us, all Ghosn can do for now is… wait…
Aboard The Flying Dutchman and traveling ’round the globe endlessly…