Carlos Ghosn Untold The lonely life of “Le Cost Killer”

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Leila Hatoum

Arab News

BEIRUT

In the lush parks of an upscale area in Minato-Ku, Tokyo, a man donning a cap and sunglasses walks around to kill time. 

His house is close by, but it is lonely to return to when none from his family lives there. Sometimes, he meets with a friend at a nearby cafe, but even then, he has to hide his identity and keep the hat on his head and the sunglasses to cover his features so that no one would recognize him.

Though not a pop star, yet Carlos Ghosn is a very well known man worldwide. What he has been accused of in three different countries, on three different continents over the past year, has become a cause célèbre, drawing worldwide attention, shock and even dismay. 

“He fears that he may be followed around. He has become convinced, and somehow obsessed with the idea that he is being followed,” Imad Ajami, the coordinator of Ghosn’s Support Executive Committee, and one of very few friends who stuck by Ghosn to date, told Arab News over the phone.

And while stories of his trial and detention have generated lengthy articles and even books from those who barely knew him, this piece is narrated by a friend who spends time with Ghosn in Japan, a close family contact and several former colleagues who helped tie loose ends together for us.

When he was first released from jail, Ghosn, tried finding a place in Tokyo, but he was denied rent by several people who did not wish to deal with the media attention. 

“We finally managed to find an open-plan one-bedroom apartment for him in Shibuya, where the owner, a Frenchwoman married to a Japanese, accepted to rent it out to him. But it was tiny, less that 40m2 and we barely were 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 a lux neighborhood in Minato-Ku.

“As part of his routine, he also visits a nearby hotel to use the gym and spa there, but not daily, rather on weekly basis or every 10 days,” said Ajami.

Ajami, a consultant who has been living in Japan for decades, and is well aware of its traditions and customs, continues to give advise to Ghosn, and meet with him on a regular basis.

There remain restrictions on his travel outside and even inside Japan, yet Ghosn has managed in the past, with the approval of the judiciary, to leave the capital with a friend by means of the high-speed train to 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 living in a big house and pay for other expenses.

The source also noted that Ghosn “pays from his own pocket,” provided that his lawyer signs on the expenses which the judiciary pre-approves.

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

And the routine drags on awaiting his trial date, which is yet to be set.

The trial may be towards the end of December, or two months after the New Year’s. Nothing is certain, as per the legal sources.

“At 65, it is not easy to spend time away from home and family,” said another friend close to Ghosn’s family, who spoke with Arab News on the condition 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 small solitary cell in Japan, for 130 days and forced to clean his own toilet. It was humiliating for him, especially that he sees he committed no mistakes,” the source added.

According to his case papers, Ghosn is not allowed to be in touch with parties named in his case and that includes some of his 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 by his father all the way to Silicon Valley.

And while his three daughters, plus his sister individually visit and sometimes stay with him at his new residence, yet that does not happen on a regular basis.

Ghosn is also banned from contacting or seeing his wife Carole following his second arrest seven months ago from his Shibuya apartment where Carole was staying with him.

Carole, who is multinational like her husband, handed the authorities, at their request, one the passports (a Lebanese one), she had on her. But shortly afterwards, she used another, an American passport, to leave Japan, unknowingly it was against the law. 

As per Arab News sources, so far, “she has placed five requests to see her husband over the course of 6 months and each and all of her requests has been denied by the Japanese authorities.”

And throughout, Carole took to the media to complain about being barred from contacting or seeing Ghosn.

Also part of his parole terms, Ghosn is not allowed to address the media directly nor use any form of social media. His contacts are limited to two lines provided by the authorities: A Laptop with a specified email address, and a phone line. 

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

It is believed that both provided lines are monitored by the government, but still Ghosn visits his lawyer’s office “daily and on a regular basis.”

Meanwhile, Ajami says Ghosn’s lawyer “is optimistic, especially with the conciliatory agreement reached with the U.S. 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.

Ghosn paid a total of $15 million to fold this case without admitting guilt.

His defense team had issued a statement back then saying that he settled “action without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations. The SEC settlement expressly permits mr. Ghosn to continue to contest and deny the factual and legal allegations against him in the legal proceedings in Japan which Mr. Ghosn fully intends to do so.”

However, as per the settlement’s term, Ghosn is banned from being a board member, a chairman or a CEO of any company worldwide, for the next 10 years.

Currently at 65, and for a man with his expertise, this ban is considered an assassination to his career, and whatever is left of his working days.

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

I had interviewed mr. “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 renowned car brands: Nissan, Renault and Mistubishi, including cutting jobs.

The last time we met was 8 years back. He was proud of his work, of the alliance he oversees with their hundreds of thousands of employees and millions of cars sold worldwide under the auto makers’ alliance he helped bring together. His ego ticked a bit high, but it was mainly based on pride and satisfaction.

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

Nissan has recently appointed a new CEO on Tuesday 8 Oct, after allowing Hiroto Saikawa, the former CEO, to resign in September following an internal investigation that found him guilty of receiving improper undisclosed payments. This step in favor of Saikawa, is seen by Ghosn’s defense team as double standards in treatment between both former Nissan officials, one being a foreigner and the other a Japanese.

However, legal sources point out that while allegations brought against Ghosn hold a criminal offense in nature, Saikawa’s misconduct “is merely administrative”, which explains the difference in treatment. 

Ghosn resigned as chairman and CEO of Renault earlier this year, after leading it since 2005. But the “Cost Killing” reputation, did not spare those who were once close to him as Renault fired its CEO and Ghosn’s friend Thierry Bolloré on Friday 11 Oct. 

Bolloré’s presence caused some tension between Renault and Nissan, who are now trying to revive their alliance. 

The relation between both conglomerates went sour after Ghosn was arrested in Japan on 19 Nov., on suspicion of financial misconduct. This includes underreporting his income by $44 million over five years, allegations which Ghosn continues to deny.

A Renault contact, 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.

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

The Alliance was formed 20 years ago, in 1999, when Nissan was almost bankrupt. Renault acquired a 43% stake in the Japanese carmaker, and Nissan took a 15% stake in Renault.

Mitsubishi, which was struggling financially, joined the duo in 2016 as Nissan acquired a 34% stake in it, in what was dubbed as one of the biggest bailouts in Japan that year.

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

Away from the litigation and media buzz, the lavish parties, and the many fake smiles which used to beam in his face wherever he used to turn, Ghosn’s days are getting lonelier as the regular visits he used to get from diplomats and friends have significantly been reduced.

“Perhaps those diplomats received orders from their countries to cut back on being seen with Ghosn. One never knows.”

Visits by friends have also decreased over the past year, and very few get to visit him, Ajami noted.

Similar to the French government’s stand, the Lebanese government has not intervened in Ghosn’s case, though both rely on very different reasons for not doing so.

It is said the French President Emmanuel Macron and Ghosn do not see eye to eye, since Macron was a minister.

Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gibran Bassil once said that Lebanon will not interfere in the work of the Japanese judiciary. However, Lebanon kept calling for a speedy trial in Ghosn’s case.

What we know for sure is that Lebanon will be sending two officials, one being a minister, to attend the coronation of the new Emperor’s festivities.

The question remains: Will they meet with Ghosn, who holds the Lebanese nationality?

A rumor, which has recently been traded in the French media  as well as in Japan, is that the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, had secretly and recently visited Japan to meet with Ghosn and relay his support.

Lebanon’s Presidential Palace vehemently denied such rumors and mockingly asked how can the president fly to Japan when he is tied down with meetings, local and international engagements, and still manage to slip the media’s attention in both countries.

What is for sure, is the world will be closely watching the updates on Ghosn’s case going forward as the man who once planed the merger of  three top auto makers together to create a number 1 force, is yet to reveal all his cards going forward.

Leila Hatoum、ベイルート


東京都港区の高級住宅街の青々とした公園の中で、野球帽とサングラスをかけた男性が散歩する様子がよく目撃される。

彼の家は近くにあるものの、家族が誰もここに住んでいない時は孤独だ。彼は時々近くのカフェで友人と会ってはいるが、そのような時でも、誰にも気づかれないよう、顔を覆って身元を隠さなければならない。

この1年で、3つの大陸での会計不正をめぐる告発を受け、世界的なニュースの見出しになった日産とルノーの元会長、カルロス・ゴーンは、状況の劇的な変化に適応しようともがいている。

「彼はつきまとわれることを恐れています。追いかけられていると思い込んでしまっています」と、ゴーン氏の支援実行委員会のコーディネーター、Imad Ajamiがアラブ・ニュースに語った。

65歳のゴーン氏の裁判と拘留については、長い記事が書かれ、ほとんど彼のことを知らないような人が書いた書籍までが出版されるに至っている。しかし、日本でゴーン氏と時間を共にしたある友人や、ある近い親類、複数の元同僚のおかげで、アラブ・ニュースは、彼の劇的な逮捕、拘留、それに続く保釈の後の彼の日常生活の詳しい全貌を知ることができた。

拘置所から釈放されるとまず、ゴーン氏は苦労の末、東京で賃貸の宿泊先を見つけた。

「我々は何とかやっと、渋谷で間仕切りのないワンベッドルームのアパートを見つけることができました。ここのオーナーは日本人と結婚したフランス人女性で、彼に部屋を貸すことに同意してくれました。しかし、狭くて、中に集まるのもやっとでした。たいていは外食をしなければならず、実用的ではなかったのです」と、Ajamiは語った。

4月の2度目の逮捕の後、また、保釈の条件の1つとして、ブラジル生まれのレバノン系フランス人実業家のゴーン氏は、東京都内の住所での滞在を求められた。彼は苦労の末、港区の大きな離れになった部屋を見つけた。

「日課の一環として、毎週か10日ごとに近くのホテルを訪れ、ジムやスパも利用しています」と、何十年も日本に住み、定期的な面会ではゴーン氏に助言を行っているコンサルタントのAjamiは語った。

ゴーン氏には旅行制限が課されているが、何とか首都を離れて友人と京都を訪れ、1日過ごして戻ったりすることもできている。

法律に詳しい情報筋によると、ゴーン氏は「このような旅行をするためには許可を申請しなければならず」、日本国外へのいかなる旅行も「認められない」のだという。

では、ゴーン氏はどうやって大きな家の家賃を払ったり、その他の支出をまかなったりしているのだろうか?

情報筋は、元取締役は「自分のポケットマネー」で支払っており、弁護士が支出の明細を作成し、その後これを裁判所が承認するのだと語った。

「今のところ、日本の当局は彼のどんな要求も拒否していません。これは主に家賃、食費、弁護士費用、その他の支出に関するものです」と、情報筋は話した。

裁判の日程が決まるのを待つ中で、ゴーン氏の日課は延々と続いている。

「65歳にもなれば、自宅や家族から離れて時間を過ごすのは、簡単ではありません」と、ある家族の友人が匿名を条件にアラブ・ニュースに語った。

「彼には支援と愛する人たちの存在が必要です。これはかつて世界のトップにいて、突如130日間も独居防に閉じ込められた人にとっては、不可欠です。これは彼にとって屈辱的なことでした。間違いは犯していないと信じているので、なおさらです」と、情報筋は語った。

彼の裁判に関する文書によると、ゴーン氏は 家族の一部を含め、裁判で名前が挙げられている第三者との接触が認められていない。

父親がシリコンバレーへ送金した時のお金の受取人として、文書の1つに名前が挙げられている一人息子のアンソニーとの接触も禁止されている。

一方で、3人の娘と姉はそれぞれ個別に訪問し、彼の新しい住まいに時々滞在しているが、ごく稀にだという。

またゴーン氏は、妻のキャロルとも、共同生活をしていた渋谷のアパートで7ヶ月前に再逮捕された後、連絡や面会を禁じられている。

夫と同様、多重国籍のキャロルは、レバノンのパスポートを日本の当局に預けている。彼女は後にアメリカのパスポートを使って出国し、日本の法律を破った。

複数の情報筋はアラブ・ニュースに対し、彼女は過去6カ月間の間に夫との面会請求を5回行い、いずれも当局によって拒否されたと語った。

保釈条件の一環として、ゴーン氏はメディアに直接対応したり、その他のソーシャルメディアを使ったりすることを禁じられている。彼の通信手段は、指定のメールアドレスを利用したラップトップと、当局が用意した電話回線に限定されている。

「これらの連絡手段を使う場合でも、午前9時から午後5時の間に弁護士の事務所からしか利用できないので、連絡は制限されています」と、法律に詳しい情報筋は語った。

Ajamiは、ゴーン氏の弁護士は「楽天的です。アメリカの証券取引委員会(SEC)と和解合意に達した今は特にそうです。というのも、これにより、彼は訴訟を1件片付けることができたからです」と語った。

ゴーン氏は、合わせて1億4000万ドル以上の報酬を記載しなかった、虚偽の財務開示を行ったとしてSECが起こした訴訟で、何とか罰金を支払うことで和解した。彼は、有罪を認めずに訴訟を終結させるため、1500万ドルを支払った。

和解の一環として、ゴーン氏は今後10年間、世界のどの企業の取締役にも、会長にも、CEOにも、就任が禁じられている。専門知識を持った男として、この禁止措置は実質的にキャリアの終わりを意味する。

「ゴーンは、自分を消し去り、滅亡させるための陰謀だと信じています」と、Ajamiは語った。

私は過去に、「コスト・キラー」にインタビューしたことがある。これは、日産、ルノー、三菱の世界3大自動車ブランドの再生を支援するために彼が取った大胆な手段から、ゴーン氏に付けられたあだ名だ。

最後に面会したのは、8年前だ。当時、彼は自身の仕事に、そして、何十万人もの従業員と、世界中で販売されている何百万代もの自動車を抱えながら、自身が監督していた自動車メーカー連合に、誇りを持っていた。

現在、かつてルノー・日産・三菱モーターズの連合を指揮した男は、日産と三菱のいずれの会長職からも追放されている。

同じく匿名を条件に取材に応じたルノー内部の関係者は、ゴーンの事件を受けて、3社間の合併の可能性は非常に低くなったと語った。

「フランスとは違い、日本人はそのトップ企業の1つが、ましてや2つが、ある多国籍企業に吸収されることなど認めないでしょう。むしろ、ルノーと日産の連合は続くでしょう。しかし、決して合併にはなりません」と彼は話した。

フランスの情報筋は、ナンテールの警察が、背任や横領を含む不正の罪に関するゴーン氏への捜査を終結させたと話した。「全て近く発表されるでしょう」と、我々の取材に答えた。

訴訟やメディアの喧騒から離れ、また、これまでのような豪華なパーティーが過去のものとなる中、外交官や友人の訪問をかつてのように頻繁に受けることも少なくなり、ゴーン氏が過ごす時間は、ますます孤独になってきている。「この1年で友人の訪問も少なくなり、彼の元を訪れる人は非常に少なくなっています」と、Ajamiは語った。

フランス政府と同様、レバノンの指導部はゴーンの事件に介入しないことに決めた。フランスのエマニュエル・マクロン大統領とゴーン氏は、マクロンが大臣を務めていた当時から緊張関係にあったと考えられている。

一方、レバノンのジブラーン・バシール外務大臣は、レバノン政府が日本の管轄権の仕事には介入しないと語っている。

レバノンは、この後10月の日本の新しい天皇の即位式に出席させるため、大臣1人を含む政府当局者2名を派遣する予定だ。問題は、レバノン国籍を持つゴーン氏と面会するかだ。

レバノンのミシェル・アウン大統領は、ゴーン氏と面会し、支援を伝えるために、最近極秘で日本を訪問したのではないかと噂された。

レバノン大統領府はこの主張を否定し、大統領は面会や内政、外交活動で多忙を極めていると発表した。

世界がゴーン氏をめぐり繰り広げられる法廷ドラマに注目する中、1つ確かなことがある。3つの自動車メーカーを結び付けることで世界の帝国を築き上げた男は、名誉挽回のための闘いを諦めることはないだろう。

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