It’s a face-saving escape. Carlos Ghosn’s Tokyo jailbreak will spare many embarrassments. The former boss of the Nissan-Renault automotive alliance, awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, skipped a $9 million bail bond and popped up in Lebanon. How he evaded his minders is a story still to be told, but his exit lets Tokyo, Paris, and his former employers end a mutually embarrassing diplomatic affair.
Japanese prosecutors will be furious, at least in public. They sought to deny Ghosn’s bail requests, arguing that he posed a flight risk. And yet Ghosn had some success positioning himself as a victim of a legal system with a 99% conviction rate, one which had him locked in an unheated cell for months hoping to extract a confession. If he had been found guilty, Ghosn – who turns 66 in March – might have died in prison, proclaiming his innocence.
For Nissan Motor, a trial would have cast an ugly light on weak corporate governance that let Ghosn get away with alleged infractions. The $25 billion carmaker, still struggling to execute a business turnaround, would have seen its image damaged no matter the trial outcome. For its alliance partner Renault, the ruckus has upended negotiations over mooted mergers with Nissan and with Fiat Chrysler.
The case also stung diplomatic relations: Japan and France both see the respective car companies as important components of industrial strategy. And yet Emmanuel Macron’s government, which prefers closer ties between Nissan and Renault, had to allow for the possibility that Japanese prosecutors had a strong case against Ghosn. His lacklustre management of Nissan in recent years made him a dubious advocate for French interests anyway.
Now the man, easily the most recognisable gaijin executive in Japan, has managed to dodge police surveillance and end up in a country without an extradition treaty with Japan. Prosecutors can claim his flight admits guilt. He says he “escaped injustice and political persecution” from a system that denies basic human rights. So long as Ghosn stays out of France, corporate and diplomatic scars can start healing, and everyone can get back to work.