Carlos Ghosn: Landed as a legend, left in a packing crate

The ex-Nissan boss' heart-stopping departure from Japan poses a broader question: is the country’s close-knit business simply too hostile to outsiders?

by Hans Greimel and William Sposato
Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn

The November 2018 arrest of auto legend Carlos Ghosn by Japanese prosecutors was improbable on almost every level. The man who had engineered the rescue of Nissan Motor Company by France’s Renault and created the world’s biggest auto alliance had no inkling of trouble ahead. Neither Nissan’s board nor the company’s auditors ever asked him about any potential issues, while prosecutors had given no clue that an investigation was under way. One of the world’s most celebrated executives was now in detention in a local jail facing long hours of interrogation without legal assistance, and eventual criminal fraud charges that could mean a prison term of 15 years.

“You’re shocked. You’re not angry. You’re just shocked,” Ghosn said in a 2020 interview from Lebanon, after fleeing Japan in an equally audacious second act to the drama. “It doesn’t just sound like a Kafka novel. It is a Kafka novel.”

Nearly three years after he was seized at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, much of the Ghosn saga remains unclear. Was he a corporate fraudster or the victim of a company coup? With any trial now an unlikely event, the full story may never be known.

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