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Don't copy Carlos Ghosn, says Yamaha

Instrument maker warns public not to hide inside its instrument cases

By Dafydd Wood / Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The story of Carlos Ghosn's dramatic fall from grace has already had more twists and turns than the Hakone Turnpike. From his initial arrest onboard Nissan's corporate jet, to his detention, interrogation and isolation, the entire saga has, on this side of the world at least, raised as many doubts about the fairness of Japan's legal system as it has about the scruples of the man himself.

And then he fled. Having calmly strolled out of his front door in Tokyo, his escape apparently involved a former US Special Forces soldier, a disguise, a bullet train to Osaka and his concealment within an instrument case aboard two separate private flights, first to Turkey and then on to Lebanon. With his French passport in hand - a document which Japanese prosecutors had seemingly confiscated - Ghosn simply walked through border control to freedom, relatively speaking.

Of course, the notice that Interpol has issued for his arrest and the hot water in which he has found himself in Lebanon over a 2008 trip to Israel mean that, even beyond Japanese jurisdiction, it won't all be plain sailing for Carlos. But he has at least now had the opportunity to share his side of the story, and his tale of derring-do has no doubt added a surprising air of glamour to the whole white collar affair. A little too much glamour, perhaps.

Because, in true Darwin Award-winning style, the one element of the entire story which people seem to have been drawn to is Ghosn's time inside a box. While the man himself has denied any recollection of this most intriguing detail of his escape, initial reports suggested that he had been carried within a double-bass case to avoid detection. These were later altered to mention a speaker box - one too big to fit through the private air terminal's x-ray scanner, of course - but, either way, it seems that people have been keen to recreate Ghosn's Houdini-esq antics for themselves.

All of which led instrument maker Yamaha to release a statement via Twitter which reads: "We won't mention the reason, but there have been many tweets about climbing inside large musical instrument cases. A warning after any unfortunate accident would be too late, so we ask everyone not to try it." While Ghosn's guilt, or lack thereof, remains hard to determine then, one thing is for sure: you absolutely shouldn't try any of this at home.

UPDATE - 21/11/19

Clearly this story is going to run and run and run. Probably for years. But for now, events continue to move at a breakneck pace. According to the BBC, which cited local media reports, the Japanese authorities have extended the detention of Mr Ghosn by ten days having failed to press charges in the initial 48 hours after his arrest.

Last night Renault released a statement to outline the 'transitional governance measures' it has taken to preserve its own interests. The crux of the announcement is the appointment of Mr Thierry Bollore as Deputy Chief Executive Officer, who will lead the management team at Groupe Renault, while its board is chaired by lead independent director Mr Philippe Lagayette.

It is notable though for several other reasons. Firstly, it describes Mr Ghosn as being 'temporarily incapacitated' which is a natty way of not saying 'briefly imprisoned'. Secondly, and most significantly, it confirms that Mr Ghosn is still the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Groupe Renault. Mr Bollore will be vested with the same powers, but only on stopgap basis.

Thirdly, its prickliness is manifest, particularly toward its junior partner in the Alliance, Nissan. The statement reiterates that the board is unable to comment on the 'evidence seemingly gathered' against Mr Ghosn by Nissan and the Japanese judicial authorities because it hasn't seen it. That request to do so, on the basis of "transparence, trust and mutual respect" has apparently been made.

Be that as it may, Renault's hand may yet be forced by the French state, which maintains a 15 per cent stake in the firm. The Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has already stated that Mr Ghosn was "no longer in a position" to lead the carmaker and should not remain in charge. He is due to meet with Renault's management team later today.

Nissan, meanwhile, is still set for a board meeting on Thursday, where it is adamant that it will remove Mr Ghosn as its chairman. Mitsubishi is likely to follow suit, although its own chief executive, Osamu Masuko, has apparently said that the alliance between the three manufacturers would be difficult to manage without him.


ORIGINAL - 19.11.18

Thunderbird-doll lookalike Carlos Ghosn - for now, lord of all he surveys at both Nissan and Renault - faces a difficult chat with Japanese prosecutors today following investigation of 'significant acts of misconduct' at the Japanese manufacturer.

Nissan has apparently been scrutinising its own chairman's behaviour for months after a whistleblower report alleged that he'd used company money for personal use and seriously under-reported his salary to Japanese authorities.

Understated by how much? Well, if the presumably well-informed Japanese media are to be believed, it could be as much as £34m over five years. Which is quite a large sum even with the rarefied remuneration packages of global carmakers taken into account.

It is not only the extent of the alleged misappropriation which has Ghosn's face on the homepage of every mainstream news site, but also his position as a figurehead for the auto industry. Lest we forget, he is widely credited with turning around the fortunes of Renault and Nissan, and for forging the alliance (along with Mitsubishi) that counts itself as one of the largest manufacturers in the world.

Certainly in Japan, until today, Ghosn was revered. It is perhaps for this reason that Nissan has not bothered pulling its punches. "It's very difficult to express it in words. Beyond being sorry, I feel big disappointment and frustration and despair. I feel despair, indignation and resentment. As the details are disclosed, I believe people will feel the same way that I feel today."

That's the firm's current CEO Hiroto Saikawa speaking at a press conference earlier. The firm has said that its board will meet on Thursday, and seek to immediately remove Ghosn from his position as chairman. Also expected to go is Greg Kelly, the representative director also said to be complicit in the wrongdoings.

According to Saikawa, a cult of personality had likely contributed to problems with oversight. "Looking back, the concentration of power was something we need to deeply reflect on," he said. Ghosn, known as "Le Cost Killer" in France for slashing expenditure at Renault, had certainly done nothing over the years to understate his pivotal role in the Alliance - even as he stepped down as Nissan CEO in 2017.

Both firms have now scrambled to shore up confidence in light of his arrest. Shortly after Nissan's press conference, Renault has said that its own board of directors would meet to discuss the claims - but not before French President Emmanuel Macron made it plain that, "as a shareholder... the French government will remain extremely vigilant regarding the stability of the Alliance, the (Renault) group and... its employees, who have the full support of the state."

Today's revelation comes just a few months after Ghosn's pay packet was only narrowly approved by Renault shareholders. That amount? A snip at £6.6m.

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