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Carlos Ghosn and the lonely life of “Le Cost Killer”

20 Oct 2019
Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives for a pre-trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on June 24, 2019. (AFP)
Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives for a pre-trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on June 24, 2019. (AFP)
Carlos Ghosn leaves the office of his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka in Tokyo on April 3, 2019. (AFP)
Carlos Ghosn leaves the office of his lawyer Junichiro Hironaka in Tokyo on April 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 Oct 2019
20 Oct 2019

Leila Hatoum, Beirut
In the lush parks of an upscale area in Tokyo’s Minato-Ku district, a man wearing a cap and sunglasses can often be seen walking around.

His house is close by, but it is lonely when none of his family lives there. Sometimes, he meets with a friend at a nearby cafe, but even then he has to conceal his identity, covering his features so that no one recognizes him.

Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan and Renault chairman who made headlines worldwide following accusations of financial misconduct on three different continents over the past year, is struggling to adapt to his dramatic change of circumstances.

“He fears that he may be followed around. He has become obsessed with the idea that he is being followed,” Imad Ajami, coordinator of Ghosn’s Support Executive Committee, told Arab News.

The 65-year-old Ghosn’s trial and detention have resulted in lengthy articles and even books from those who barely know him. However, a friend who spends time with Ghosn in Japan, a close family contact and several former colleagues helped Arab News piece together details of his daily life following his dramatic arrest, detention and subsequent release on bail.

When he was first released from jail, Ghosn struggled to find rental accommodation in Tokyo.

“We finally managed to find an open-plan, one-bedroom apartment for him in Shibuya, where the owner, a Frenchwoman who was married to a Japanese, agreed to rent it out to him. But it was tiny, and we were barely able to gather in it. We had to dine out most of the time and that was not practical,” Ajami said.

After his second arrest in April, and as part of his release terms, Ghosn, a Brazilian-born French businessman of Lebanese descent, was asked to stay at an address in Tokyo. He managed to find a larger separate house in Minato-Ku.

“As part of his routine, he also visits a nearby hotel to use the gym and spa every week or every 10 days,” said Ajami, a consultant who has been living in Japan for decades and advises Ghosn during their regular meetings.

Travel restrictions have been imposed on Ghosn, yet he has managed to leave the capital with a friend to visit Kyoto, where he spent a day before returning.

According to a legal source, Ghosn “has to ask for permission to take such trips,” and any travel outside Japan is a “no go.”

So how does Ghosn afford to pay rent on a large house and cover other expenses?

The source said that the former executive “pays from his own pocket,” with his lawyer detailing expenses which are then approved by the judiciary.

“So far the Japanese authorities have not denied any of his requests, which mainly revolve around paying for rent, food, his lawyer and other expenses,” the source said.

Ghosn’s routine drags on while he waits for his trial date to be set.

“At 65, it is not easy to spend time away from home and family,” said a family friend, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“He needs the support and presence of his loved ones. This is critical for someone who once was on top of the world and suddenly found himself confined to a solitary cell for 130 days. It was humiliating for him, especially since he believes he committed no mistakes,” the source said.

According to his case papers, Ghosn is not allowed to contact other parties named in the case, including some family members.

He is barred from contacting his only son Anthony, who was named in one of the papers as a beneficiary from money transfers sent by his father to Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, his three daughters and his sister visit individually and sometimes stay with him at his new residence, but only infrequently.

Ghosn is also banned from contacting or seeing his wife, Carole, following his second arrest seven months ago at his Shibuya apartment, which she shared.

Carole, who is multinational like her husband, handed over her Lebanese passport to Japanese authorities. She later used a US passport to leave the country, breaching Japanese law.

Sources told Arab News that she had made five requests to see her husband in the past six months, all of which had been denied by the authorities.

As part of his parole terms, Ghosn is not allowed to address the media directly or use any form of social media. His communication is limited to a laptop with a specified email address and a phone line provided by authorities.

“Even with those contact lines, he is limited as they can only be used from his lawyer’s office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” the legal source said.

Ajami said that Ghosn’s lawyer “is optimistic, especially with the conciliatory agreement reached with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) late last month, because that means he has closed one file down.”

Ghosn managed to settle charges brought against him by the SEC for filing false financial disclosures which omitted over $140 million in total compensation. He paid $15 million to end the case without admitting guilt.

As part of the settlement, Ghosn is barred from being a board member, chairman or CEO of any company worldwide for the next 10 years. For a man with his expertise, the ban effectively means an end to his career.

“Ghosn believes it is a conspiracy to eliminate and destroy him,” said Ajami.

I had interviewed “Le Cost Killer” in the past. This was the nickname given to Ghosn for the drastic measures he took to help revive three of the world’s biggest car brands: Nissan, Renault and Mistubishi.

The last time we met was eight years ago. Back then, he was proud of his work, and of the automakers’ alliance he oversaw with hundreds of thousands of employees and millions of cars sold worldwide.

Today, the man who once headed the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance, has been ousted as chairman from both Nissan and Mitsubishi.

A Renault insider, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that following Ghosn’s case, it is highly unlikely that there would be a merger between the three companies.

“Unlike the French, the Japanese will not allow one of their top companies, let alone two, to be absorbed into one multinational entity. If anything, the alliance between Renault and Nissan will continue, but it will never be a merger,” he said.

French sources said that police in Nanterre are finalizing their case against Ghosn over misconduct charges, including breach of trust and embezzlement. “Everything will be announced soon,” we were told.

Away from the litigation and media buzz, and the lavish parties of his earlier days, Ghosn’s time is getting lonelier as the frequent visits he used to get from diplomats and friends have started to fall away.

“Visits by friends have also decreased in the past year, and very few get to visit him,” Ajami said.
Like the French government, Lebanon’s leadership has decided against intervening in Ghosn’s case. It is believed that French President Emmanuel Macron and Ghosn have had a tense relationship since Macron’s time as a minister.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil has said that Beirut will not interfere in the work of the Japanese judiciary.

Lebanon will send two officials, including a minister, to attend the coronation of Japan’s new emperor later in October. The question is: Will they meet with Ghosn, who holds Lebanese nationality?

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was rumored to have secretly visited Japan recently to meet with Ghosn and relay his support.

Lebanon’s Presidential Palace denied the claims, saying the president was tied down with meetings, and local and international engagements.

While the world watches Ghosn’s unfolding legal drama, one thing is certain: The man who forged a global empire by uniting three automakers will not give up the fight to salvage his reputation.

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