For the first time since his dramatic 2019 escape from Japan, where he was free on bond awaiting trial, Carlos Ghosn appears to be on the offensive in his quest to clear his name.
On May 18, Ghosn, now 69 and living in Lebanon out of reach of the Tokyo prosecutor’s office, filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor in Beirut against Nissan and 11 current and former executives for their role in organizing a coup to remove him from management and setting him up for criminal charges that had little to do with their reason for wanting him out — which was to block a planned Renault takeover of the Japanese automaker.
An email exchange on Nov. 18, 2018, the day before Ghosn’s arrest, between the head of the CEO office, Hari Nada, and the CEO, Hiroto Saikawa, both among the defendants named in the complaint, outlines the plan. That document is the first direct link of the coup’s planning to Nissan headquarters. The source is Ghosn.
Of the 11 defendants, seven allegedly planned the coup and concealed exculpatory evidence from Nissan’s board. Four others allegedly entered Ghosn’s residences in Lebanon and Brazil on the day of his Nov. 19 arrest in Tokyo and took documents and other personal belongings without warrants. This is a crime in Lebanon and one of the charges in the complaint. A hearing to determine whether to move the case forward to trial is scheduled for Sept. 18.
With all defendants having been notified, Ghosn held a press conference July 18 in Tokyo by way of video link from his home in Beirut where he discussed the complaint.
“Nissan will have to pay for what they did to me and my family,” said Ghosn. He’s seeking $1.1 billion in damages including $588 million in lost compensation and $500 million in damages.
He also touched on a range of issues including problems facing the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors alliance since his November 2018 ouster (the alliance has fallen from No.1 in global sales to No.4), the sudden removal in June of Nissan’s chief operating officer, Ashwani Gupta, leaving the automaker with only two auto executives on its 10-member board, and the collapse of Nissan’s business. Production, sales and market share are all down sharply, while operating margin has averaged 1% annually.
Ghosn’s strongest comments came in support of Greg Kelly (pictured, below left), an ally on Nissan’s board who was caught up in the Nov. 19 sting and forced to spend three and a half years in Japan defending himself. Kelly returned to his Tennessee home in March 2022 and is appealing his sole remaining conviction, after having been acquitted of most others.
“What they’ve done to Greg Kelly is despicable,” Ghosn said. “The guy was sick (preparing for spinal stenosis surgery), and he was in the United States. If there was any doubt about him, Japan could have asked the U.S. legal system to deal with it under a cooperation treaty” between the two countries.
“Instead, they ambushed him. They brought him to Japan and arrested him on the single charge of complicity in not declaring future compensation (for me) that was neither paid nor decided.
“They kept him hostage in Japan for more than three years. He couldn’t leave to see his family in the United States. His career was shattered. And then they give him a six-month suspended sentence.
“I’m not talking about the sentence per se. The punishment was the destruction of his reputation, keeping him in Japan for more than three years for something that should have taken one month to judge.”
Ghosn went on to add – while noting that his trial would have taken eight to 10 years because of the way the prosecutors had structured it, possibly putting him into his late 70s before a verdict – that Kelly and Saikawa “signed the same documents. (Saikawa) was aware of everything,” said Ghosn. “Yet only one of them had his reputation shattered, his career and future destroyed and his family suffering.
“This really smells of discrimination. This is one of the most shocking points. If you think Kelly is guilty, then Saikawa is guilty. Why the different treatments? Why this difference between an American citizen who has been a loyal server (employee) of Nissan?”
Records show there were three Japanese who advised Ghosn on future employment and compensation: Saikawa (pictured, below left), Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan’s former chief operating officer, and Itaru Koeda, its former co-chairman. None of them were charged, only Kelly, suggesting there was a double standard — one for Japanese and another for non-Japanese — in the adjudication of this case.
Wards reached out to Nissan for comment. It did not respond.
Nissan, meanwhile, is suing Kelly for $40 million – all the money it paid in civil fines in Japan and settlement costs in a shareholder lawsuit in the U.S. with the Jackson County Employees’ Retirement System in Michigan, despite the Tokyo District Court’s having acquitted Kelly for seven of the eight years in the nondisclosure claim.
The claim spanned a period from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2017 plus the last month of fiscal 2009. Kelly's lawyers are appealing the eighth year because, they say, records show he wasn't involved with any of the alleged non-reporting of income.
Jamie Wareham, Kelly's lead U.S. lawyer, said he’s “following the Ghosn case carefully because Nissan lied about Carlos Ghosn and it lied even more about Greg Kelly.”