A couple of months ago, the whole world was reasonably shocked with the news of arresting the Lebanese-Brazilian automotive tycoon Carlos Ghosn. Ghosn who has saved Nissan from bankruptcy in 1999, and was once named by Japanese people as the 7th most preferred person to run Japan (AXA Life Insurance Company random poll in June 2011 asking: Which celebrity do you want to run Japan?), some even go as far as saying that he saved the Japanese Corporate World by breaking a lot of taboos in the Leadership and Management Models of Japan, has been arrested in Haneda Airport on November 19, 2018 under accusations of under-reporting his income and misuse of company (Nissan) assets.
At first instance, the whole story seems not to add up. How could someone in Ghosn’s position, and who has achieved the following status: “Le Cost Killer” saving Renault and Nissan from bankruptcy, awarded by Fortune Magazine as Asia Businessman of the Year in 2002, identified in 2003 by Fortune Magazine as one of the 10 most powerful people in business outside the U.S., and voted Man of the Year in its Asian Edition, named through surveys jointly published by Financial Times and PricewaterhouseCoopers as the fourth most respected business leader in 2003, and the third most respected business leader in 2004 and in 2005, and achieved celebrity status in Japan and in the business world, where his life has been chronicled in a Japanese manga comic book, (how could he) risk all what he has built to evade taxes and abuse his position? Does he really need to? But then again, you think, maybe you are too emotional because he is a fellow citizen of your mother country, and because he is an international figure who has inspired thousands of companies and individuals throughout his journey, his thought leadership, writings, speeches, and progressive ideas. So you try to add things up again; maybe you are wrong; maybe he indeed did under declare his income and misuse the assets of Nissan, but it still doesn’t add up!
This is not an emotional discourse in defense of Carlos Ghosn, rather a fully logical and psychological analysis that shows, to a very large extent, that Ghosn could as well be the victim of a conspiracy. At least 10 indicators can be identified to support this assumption:
1. Absence of history. Never throughout his career and up to the day he became Chairman of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn was accused of any criminal act (at least something that we know of publicly), not even an implication of such an act.
2. It doesn’t add up. Ghosn has been in top tier leadership positions for such a long time, and not only in Japan. If he is a tax evader or an abuser of power, he supposedly would have done so in all countries where he worked. Why are there no pressed accusations against him in France or in Brazil or in Lebanon, or in the USA?
3. Needs’ mismatch. From a psychological and motivation theory perspective, Ghosn is logically in the Self Actualization stage of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. He supposedly has fulfilled his need to survive, his need for shelter, his social needs, his esteem needs, and is theoretically in the Self Actualization stage. This stage of the needs’ pyramid is globally recognized to be a less material and more values driven stage. At his age, and in light of his global achievements and undeniable proven contribution to advancement in technology, green energy, leadership thinking, youth and entrepreneurial support, among others, it is extremely unlikely that Ghosn would be concerned about making money by evading taxes.
4. Irrational Behavior. Why would someone who has achieved what Ghosn has achieved take that risk in blowing it all up? It doesn’t make any logical sense. Someone like Carlos Ghosn makes 100s of decisions on daily basis, and given his position, his decisions would mostly involve investing and spending billions of dollars. He is extremely familiar with risk management and making calculated risky decisions that have proven to be mostly correct throughout his professional history. Why would he make such a move? And assume that he considered evading taxes or abuse company assets, someone like him would undeniably have the logic to do it impeccably perfect so that he would not be caught; which is not actually what happened. Still, if someone knows that he is guilty and that a new executive has taken his position (Hiroto Sikawa was appointed CEO of Nissan in April 2017) and who can expose his illegal acts, won’t he be more cautious and won’t he build alliances to protect him?
5. The point in time. Let’s cut the b… s… We all know the Japanese mastery of systems, quality, and control. They have achieved out-of-this world technology, invented robots when everybody else were still fascinated by the color TV, taught the world about Kaizen, TQM, JIT supply chain, and continuous process improvement. So, unless all this history is no more than hollow advertisement, how could the Japanese Internal Auditors of Nissan and Public Finance Auditors not discover that Ghosn is evading taxes except at the end of his career in Japan? They had Ghosn for almost 20 years (at the time of his arrest), and if he was evading taxes, he must have been doing it for long. Why then they would wait until the end to make this discovery?! It is one of three things. They either have something personal against him, and there is a conspiracy to put him away; or they knew he was evading taxes for long, but waited till the end of his career to enlarge numbers and make a bigger case to take back more money from him; or their Auditors and Public Finance servants are extremely incompetent not to have discovered the case until after 20 years of Ghosn’s career in Japan.
6. How it all happened. Nissan’s allegations is that Ghosn has been doing this for a long time, and there are implications that Nissan compliance auditors began trying to track Zi-A activity (the company that it is claimed that Ghosn used to hide his company funds’ abuse) in 2014 but were stymied at first by the chain of shell companies used in Zi-A investments. Those allegations came after a major shift in leadership positions in the company, where Ghosn stepped into the Chairman position of Nissan in April 1, 2017, and Hiroto Saikawa was appointed as CEO. More than a year and a half later, all this happens. Now, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you know that there has been leaks to the media that Ghosn had planned to call a vote to fire Nissan CEO Saikawa and reinstate Greg Kelly (Ghosn’s top aide who has semi-retired to the U.S. in 2015 ) to active service at the November 2018 scheduled board meeting. Further, there is this strange coordination between the arrest of Ghosn at the Airport, and the same-day statement of Nissan’s CEO that the Board has met and decided to dismiss Ghosn from his position as Chairman. Smells like all was planned? If Nissan and its new CEO and Board knew about Ghosn’s acts, why did they wait for 19 months to bring it up? Last but not least, the person who reported Ghosn has been identified as a “UNJE” (Unidentified non-Japanese Executive) from the Legal Department of Nissan. Nice move. A foreigner reporting a foreigner (We – Japanese – do not steal, and do not tell!).
7. The Gradual rise of accusations. There is a big question about the ascendance of accusations over a short period of time. On November 19, 2018 Ghosn was detained for up to 23 days based on Japanese laws that allow the detention of suspects up to that period before criminal charges are filed. On December 10, 2018 he was charged with underreporting of deferred compensation. On December 21, 2018 he was re-arrested on suspicion of shifting to Nissan personal losses of US$16.6 million related to a personal swap contract in October 2008. On January 11, 2019 he was accused with two additional charges for aggravated breach of trust and understating his income. The question is: don’t investigations take time? How could you accuse someone with 5 major charges in less than 8 weeks? Allegations of this nature can and will wreck the reputation of the accused. How can you come up with such accusations in such a short period of time? Even if auditors are working 24/7. Unless the file has already been prepared and is being passed on bit by bit for unknown reasons. Further, how come those accusations have to do only with one person? Did anybody hear of any other arrests? A Nissan executive or employee? None. Could all this malevolent plan of Ghosn happen without any employee noticing anything unusual, or without the contribution of any employees from inside Nissan? Doubtful.
8. Oxymoronic Allegations. The CEO of Nissan, Sikawa, and the Board claim that Ghosn has abused company’s assets by the millions of dollars (estimated at 80$ million). Right. The question is: where was the Board all this time? We all know that conglomerates like Nissan are very sensitive and keen on Corporate Governance. The role of the Board is critical in steering and ensuring the good management of the company. We all know that it is not a one man show in such global scale companies, and that decisions are not made by one person. Again the question is: Where was the Board? Where were the executive committees? Where was the company CFO? Where were the internal auditors? Where were the external auditors? If Ghosn is to go down, then all those should go down with him as well; that is if they want to prove that this is not conspiracy!
9. The treatment. Although one can justify the treatment of Carlos Ghosn in his place of detention as part of the Japanese Law, the way he is being handled still does not make sense. Ghosn is being treated as a criminal at the National Security Scale. He is being denied visits by his family, detained in solitary confinement, and denied bail arrangement. I mean, common Japanese Gentlemen, the man is an International figure and not some kind of a street killer from the slums. A bit of respect for his history and what he has done to the industry of your country is the least you owe him, with all due respect to the laws of your country.
10. Silence. There is a weary silence about the case of Carlos Ghosn all over the world. Except for shy statements here and there, and a decent move from Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deport Ghosn to Lebanon, the world is eerily silent about his case. There were times when Carlos Ghosn was the star of the house, a key note speaker, the inspirer of generations, the influencer (as LinkedIn puts it) that affects national agendas and the battle for a better and healthier world in Davos. Where did all this go?
We would not be giving Carlos Ghosn due respect if we say that he is innocent because ‘innocent’ implies that there is a possibility that Ghosn could be guilty, which is not the case by any means. All the allegations has no clear ground yet. From a documentation perspective nothing has been published so far; from a psychological perspective, and unless Ghosn is psychologically sick, he has no unfulfilled needs that would stimulate and motivate him to do such an act. His global reputation, and the unanimous respect that the whole world pays to him is the most screaming proof that he did not do anything illegal, and if he did, then we must be living in a literary Crazy World; then we have concrete reasons to believe that all the leaders, governments, royal associations, orders, universities, economic experts, business people, financial analysts, bankers, media, and million others who have always confirmed that Carlos Ghosn is a respectful, humble, sharp, intelligent, genius, successful, model, impactful, influencing, pioneer business leader and internationally acclaimed figure, were either all lying or stupid enough to be fooled by him! The above rationale shows critical indicators that this decent International Figure who is a model of what a Global Citizen should be in terms of his humbleness, respectfulness, accessibility, positivity, and eagerness to make the world a better place should be freed immediately.
Charles S. Saliba
References: Wikipedia, CNN, BBC, The Guardian
January 15, 2019