• Mina Basmaci

The Carlos Ghosn Case

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

The international manhunt for Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s former CEO, has at times felt more like a James Bond-esque cinematic sequence than reality, with the CEO ultimately being smuggled out of Japan in a box meant for musical instruments. Ghosn’s master escape led him to Lebanon, strategically chosen on the basis that the country does not usually hand over its nationals to other countries. The media’s sensationalization of Ghosn has reinvigorated important conversations about the role of varying extradition laws from country to country (and in the United States, even state to state) in delaying judicial processes. Ghosn’s case in this regard is not exceptional but rather indicative of a larger phenomenon that this article hopes to explore further. On the most basic level, extradition is the transfer of an accused from one state or country to another state or country that seeks to place the accused on trial, and this article will consider this lack of standardization in transfers across the globe specifically through a case study of Carlos Ghosn and the complications of bringing him to trial.

Ghosn faces up to 15 years and a $22 million fine for financial misconduct related to his time serving as Nissan’s CEO. The allegations that prompted his arrest include under-reporting his salary by $44 million, shifting personal investment losses to Nissan, and diverting funds for personal use (including buying a luxury yacht and paying a Saudi businessman $14.7 million). According to Ghosn and his lawyers, though, these charges are not the result of any wrongdoing on his part but instead the result of corporate executives, backed by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, seeking to push him out in protest of an emerging alliance between Renault and Nissan that he was otherwise spearheading. Ghosn maintains that his escape from Japan was necessary and that it was not an admission of guilt but of innocence: “I...will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.”

Up until his fall from grace in the eyes of the media, Ghosn was revered in Japan for being “one of the titans of the global auto industry.” As explained in a 2003 article published in Time:

Carlos Ghosn gets the sort of adulation in Japan that is normally reserved for top athletes and rock stars. He has been made the superhero of a comic book — a coveted business honor. And in a poll of Japanese women, he was voted one of the top four men they would most want to father their children. Widely known as "Mr. Fix It," CEO Ghosn has lifted Nissan from near bankruptcy and in just four years has given it industry-leading profit margins, a debt-free balance sheet and a fleet of popular, critically acclaimed cars and trucks.

As the “quintessential global executive,” Ghosn was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents and currently has homes in Rio de Janeiro, Paris, and Beirut. He speaks six languages and has concretized his legacy as “Mr. Fix It” through successfully modernizing Michelin in North America in addition to Nissan. His reach has extended most everywhere, which is perhaps fitting given the international scope of his escape.

Since April, he had been on house arrest awaiting trial. He was released on the condition that he would stay in the country, have cameras installed in his home, have limited access to his phone, and have no access whatsoever to the Internet or his wife. Ghosn managed to escape his home and take a private jet from Turkey to Lebanon through a highly orchestrated escape.

He explained in an email statement that “I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.” He is pushing for a trial in Lebanon instead of Japan, ultimately enjoying the lack of a relationship between the two countries in terms of extradition. As of January 24th, Lebanon has 40 days to figure out whether or not to break precedent and deport Ghosn, or host his trial. Because of the lack of standardization, the specifics have been often left up to the sway of politics instead of concretized laws. World Population Review explains extradition through the following:

By allowing countries to pursue fugitives and other wanted criminals abroad, extradition has become increasingly important in combating transnational criminal organizations. Extradition allows countries to detain those involved in terrorism, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, and cybercrime. In some nations, however, there are no extradition treaties in place...This means that a person convicted of a crime in one country does not have to be returned to that country to face trial or punishment. Even in nations with treaties in place, geopolitical issues can lead to disputes over extradition. Countries that have extradition treaties with the United States but are known for refuse extradition requests are Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Iceland, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. On the other hand, some countries without an extradition treaty, such as Yemen in the Middle East, are known for returning fugitives.

Edward Snowden’s successful escape to Hong Kong and then Russia, where he still lives, may just be a foreshadowing of what will happen with Carlos Ghosn, as his success was likewise dependent on tense relations between Russia and the United States. On the one hand, the lack of standardization allows victims of predatory systems to escape and live humanely in a more stable and just place elsewhere. On the other, it allows predatory perpetrators to disrupt stability through the evasion of justice. At this point in time it is up to individual countries to walk this line on their own terms. In any case, though, extradition is an important case in point on the importance of diplomacy and reaching across political lines and bureaucratic red tape. Developing a uniform system for extradition sounds near untenable, but there ought to be some form of accountability or establishment of mutual principles in order to maintain and continue pursuits of justice. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Ghosn’s case unfolds, as it will either affirm or deny the efficacy of extradition laws.

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