Comment: Nice try Ghosn, but you can’t try yourself

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 12 Jan 2020

Entertaining: A combination of photos show Ghosn's expressive face, including one of enjoyment, during the press conference he held in Lebanon. — Reuters

INSTEAD of a show trial in Tokyo, we got the Ghosn show in Beirut. Neither offered the chance of a satisfactory outcome.One of the most hotly anticipated press conferences in corporate history did not disappoint. Carlos Ghosn has lost none of his vim following his arrest, imprisonment and flight from Japan.

Speaking in multiple languages, and often visibly enjoying the occasion, he forcefully argued his case for why he is innocent of charges of undeclared income and misuse of corporate funds, and why his arrest in Japan was really part of a conspiracy to stop him from deepening the giant Renault-Nissan carmaking alliance. (Ghosn has been boss of both the French and Japanese companies.)

His confidence in his own abilities as a corporate leader remains undimmed. He couldn’t resist bringing up how General Motors tried to hire him in 2009 for double what he earned at Nissan; that business schools have written case studies about how he revived the near- bankrupt Nissan after arriving there in 1999; and how the Renault-Nissan alliance has fallen apart and the two companies’ share prices have hit the skids since he departed.

But a press conference – just the start of what is sure to be a bitterly fought public relations battle – won’t suffice to clear his name.

Indeed, the spectacle of him settling scores with Japanese prosecutors and his former employers, effectively trying himself before a baying press pack (and sporadically interrupted by applause from his acolytes), was unedifying.

Ghosn’s treatment by Japan was undeniably shabby. Weeks of solitary confinement, being interrogated for hours on end without a lawyer present, and being barred from seeing his wife, was deplorable.

Japan’s 99%-plus conviction rate is questionable, to put it mildly.

Other Nissan executives were subsequently revealed to have received excess income but only Ghosn and his American colleague Greg Kelly were arrested.

Even so, Ghosn is now a fugitive from Japanese justice and Japan is not the only entity to accuse him of wrongdoing. Renault also published concerns about financial relationships with third parties and various corporate expenses, including an infamous Marie Antoinette-themed party at Versailles in France.

Ghosn settled charges brought by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission over his failure to declare US$140mil (RM570mil) of post-retirement income and benefits.

He did not admit wrongdoing, but he paid a US$1mil (RM4mil) fine and is banned from serving as a director in the United States for a decade.

He says he doesn’t think he is above the law and insists he is willing to stand trial anywhere provided he receives a fair trial.

Of course, a just hearing is essential, but it shouldn’t be up to Ghosn to determine the forum or the manner in which these claims are examined. (He dodged a question about whether he would go to France.)

It’s now going to be very difficult to arrange a trial anywhere. It will depend on the cooperation of Japan, which would naturally have reservations about assisting a wanted fugitive or undermining its own legal system.

Ghosn is vexed that he has been portrayed in Tokyo as a “cold, greedy, dictator”. He sees himself as a victim and is determined to restore his reputation. But his flight from Japan, which relied on expensive hired help and private jets, showed how he operates by different rules to most people.

He seemed to think that walking the streets of Tokyo during his release on bail without a bodyguard was in some way unusual. In one particularly ill-advised and vain comment, he compared his failure to foresee his arrest to the United States not anticipating the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour that triggered its entry into WWII. Even now, he is living in a house paid for by Nissan.

In fairness, at least he did not use the press conference to provide dramatic details about his escape from justice (perhaps he is keeping them for a Netflix movie) – because, however exciting, that is really not the story here.

Ultimately, he still has questions to answer and holding court in front of the world’s media doesn’t cut it. One way or another, justice must still be served. – Bloomberg

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