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Carlos Ghosn: What next for the auto tycoon who jumped bail?

Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn AFP Archives

Former Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn fled Japan — where he was on bail awaiting trial for alleged financial misconduct — for Lebanon, surprising even his lawyer, who was “dumbfounded” by the news. The 65-year-old auto tycoon maintains he has "not fled justice" but "escaped injustice and political persecution" in Japan, where his arrest 13 months ago stunned the business world.

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With questions flying over how Ghosn masterminded his exit from Japan and what fate awaits the fallen executive after this new spectacular twist in an extraordinary saga, FRANCE 24 presented a live special on Tuesday, “Carlos Ghosn, what’s next?”

Guests and correspondents from across the world discussed how a charismatic businessman once hailed for turning around loss-making companies might parlay his reputation into a new life away from the charges he faces in Japan.

FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Beirut, Leila Molana-Allen, said it now seems Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan, without any official knowledge on the part of the Japanese. No extradition treaty exists between Lebanon and Japan, although this development is “clearly” bound to cause a diplomatic problem between the countries, she explained.

“The Japanese do send a lot of aid to Lebanon. Lebanon is not in a situation right now to be able to let go of the international aid that it is receiving because it is facing a dire economic crisis,” Molana-Allen reported. “But Mr. Ghosn is so popular in this country, he’s seen as a national hero. He’s one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs internationally. He has a hand in many Lebanese businesses. And so it seems very likely that he has decided to come back here and has had the support of some institutions here to come back, rebuild his life here and start running those businesses again.”

France had ‘no information’ of departure

Born in Brazil to parents of Lebanese origins, Ghosn was raised in Beirut before moving to France for further education. He has Brazilian, Lebanese and French citizenship.

A day after news of his shock flight broke, French authorities said they were unaware of the auto tycoon’s plans to leave Japan.

"The French authorities were not informed of his departure from Japan and have had no information about the circumstances of this departure," the French foreign ministry said in a statement issued Tuesday, adding that it learned of Ghosn's flight "in press reports".

Ghosn had benefited from consular assistance via the French Embassy in Tokyo, the ministry noted, and "regular contacts" were maintained between the embassy, Ghosn and his lawyers.

"His situation, as well as the application of certain legal principles, was followed closely and permanently by our embassy in Tokyo," the ministry said.

‘Love, hate’

FRANCE 24’s James Andre, reporting from Renault-Nissan headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt outside Paris, said there is a “love, hate relationship with [Ghosn] in France” where, after a stint at Michelin, he transformed Renault from a national company “into an international motor behemoth”.

“There was criticism that he was more and more disconnected with what was happening inside the company and on the factory floor and also criticism of his salary which was considered huge here in France,” James André reported. “Only a few years ago, the French government voted against that huge salary saying it was too high, but the board of Renault went ahead and gave him that money nevertheless;”

“He’s been a man hugely respected but also criticised for the way he’s been handling his own wealth and his position as the CEO of Renault,” André added.

Economist Jean-François Di Meglio, president of the Asia Centre Think Tank in France, told FRANCE 24 the latest “stunning” twist in the Ghosn saga is in keeping with “Carlos style”, recalling that he was seen as an “extraordinary character” and “daring” in Japan, where he even featured in manga comics.

FRANCE 24’s Douglas Herbert in studio in Paris, too, noted that Ghosn was an outlier even among the jet-setting elite, a businessman who was a global citizen with a certain mystique.

Tokyo-based investigative reporter Jake Adelstein, meanwhile, told FRANCE 24’s Genie Godula that Ghosn’s escape is an interesting turn of events and perhaps a smart one on the auto tycoon’s part.

“I think that Ghosn probably made the wisest decision because he was never going to get a fair trial here,” Adelstein said from Japan.

“This isn’t the way people thought it would play out, but Ghosn's decision to run, where he can actually speak to the media freely, makes sense.”

To watch the half-hour special in its entirety, with those interviews and more, click on the video player above.

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