On Sunday Carlos Ghosn instigated an international incident by fleeing house arrest in Japan, where he was awaiting trial. Somehow he made it to Beirut by way of Istanbul, leading Interpol to release an emergency alert, Turkey to detain seven people involved in his escape, Japanese media to express embarrassment over losing such a high-profile suspect, and France to offer that it would not extradite Ghosn if he were to arrive.
This all leads to a pivotal question: Who the heck is Carlos Ghosn, anyway? Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Carlos Ghosn?
Before this week, Ghosn (whose last name rhymes with “own”) was known as the executive who married Japanese car company Nissan with French auto company Renault to become dual CEO of both companies.
How’d he do that?
Back in the late 1990s, Renault purchased a one-third stake in Nissan, which was then a failing automaker. Ghosn was the Renault vice president tasked with cleaning up Nissan. He did. Nissan became the #2 automaker in Japan, surpassing Honda, and Ghosn became dual CEO.
He ping-ponged between Paris and Tokyo for two decades, amassing celebrity. Ghosn hosted a wedding party at Versailles in 2016, complete with actors in Marie Antoinette-style garb.
Then, three years ago, Mitsubishi joined his roster when Nissan took a controlling interest.
What financial crimes is he accused of?
In 2018, he was arrested in Japan on accusations of financial wrongdoing, including underreporting his income. He had long claimed that he was underpaid compared to some auto CEOs. (A Reuters analysis of company filings shows he was actually one of the highest-paid auto executives, though he was also running multiple companies.)
A whistle-blower reported that Ghosn and aides were funneling tens of millions into an unreported deferred compensation fund, to be paid later. Additional financial charges followed, including that he’d allegedly temporarily mixed personal losses with Nissan’s a decade ago. The Renault-Nissan marriage unraveled.
How’d he escape Japanese house arrest?
This is now a matter of international intrigue—and much online speculation—given that he was supposedly under heavy surveillance and monitored communication with forfeited passports. The Guardian reported that he may have escaped his home in a musical instrument box, allegedly with help from Lebanese officials.
Ghosn will likely tell us himself soon enough. Upon arrival in Lebanon, where he grew up and owns property, he issued a press release. “I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week,” he said. Stay tuned.