Home » Is Fugitive Tycoon Carlos Ghosn Actually a Victim?

Is Fugitive Tycoon Carlos Ghosn Actually a Victim?

Following his distinguished stint at Michelin, Carlos Ghosn served as the simultaneous CEO of Renault and Nissan—positions that, along with the fact that he saved both companies from the brink of ruin, made him one of the most respected automotive executives in the world. Particularly, in Japan, Ghosn was a celebrity, viewed as a veritable superhero (hence his own manga) and a man of the highest standing. But all of that changed on Nov. 19, 2018, when he was arrested at Tokyo International Airport and sent to prison, where he languished due to accusations of financial malfeasance. It was a scandal that rocked the industry, and it was all the more stunning given that the charges against him seemed relatively trivial.

Which is why, facing an extended stint behind bars, Ghosn took matters into his own hands and hatched a daring escape plan straight out of a spy movie.

In Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn (Aug. 25), Ghosn pleads his innocence before the camera, claiming that he was a victim of a plot conceived and orchestrated by his Nissan boardroom adversaries, who sought to get him out of the picture before he could merge Renault and Nissan, which the latter saw as a one-way ticket to assimilation and irrelevance. Based on the nonfiction book Boundless by Wall Street Journal reporters Nick Kostov and Sean McLain, both of whom participate here, Apple TV+’s four-part docuseries contends that there was something to the idea that Ghosn was being persecuted. Moreover, it paints an intensely unflattering portrait of a Japanese judicial system in which due process is often nowhere to be found and torture (including gratuitous use of solitary confinement) is the norm, thereby providing further justification for Ghosn’s eventual perilous scheme.

If he was initially a target of injustice, however, the Ghosn presented by James Jones’ docuseries appears to be far from innocent.

Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn’s primary hook is the means by which Ghosn extricated himself from Japan, where he was out on bail for the second time (to the tune of $4.5 million). Determined to avoid a trial that he viewed as the last act of a coup, Ghosn—via his loyal second wife, Carole—enlisted the services of Michael Taylor, an American high school football coach who was also a former Green Beret with a long track record of successfully getting people out of trouble. Through family and work, Taylor had ties to Lebanon, Ghosn’s homeland, and in light of his own negative opinion of the Japanese criminal justice system, he agreed to the job. To execute this audacious mission, Taylor did his best Mission: Impossible routine, hiring a private plane and smuggling Ghosn out of his hotel, onto a train from Tokyo to Osaka, and to the airport and into the sky in a giant musical storage crate that had holes drilled in its bottom to prevent the disgraced CEO from suffocating. As Taylor says, “The plan was so brilliant because it was so simple.”

Director Jones suspensefully recreates this ploy through dramatic recreations and surveillance footage from the various places that Taylor and Ghosn traversed. Just as central to the docuseries’ success is its collection of talking heads. Not only do Ghosn and his spouse Carole speak extensively in Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn, but so too do Kostov and McLain; CNN business correspondent Richard Quest; Ghosn’s former Renault boss Louis Schweitzer and future Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa; Taylor and his son Peter (who was also eventually implicated in the escape); and Japanese and French officials and investigators who looked into Ghosn’s alleged misdeeds. Covering these momentous events from multiple angles, and with the benefit of considerable archival material and firsthand accounts, the proceedings couldn’t be more comprehensive—although, ultimately, that isn’t quite the same thing as conclusive.

Carole Ghosn in “Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn”

Apple TV+

McLain makes clear that some sort of conspiracy was afoot at Nissan to oust Ghosn, not only because he had merger dreams dancing in his head, but because Ghosn had developed a reputation as a greedy CEO who viewed the companies as his personal piggy banks—a notion cemented by a 2014 gala at Versailles to commemorate Renault and Nissan’s 15-year alliance that came off as a glorified (and wildly extravagant) Ghosn birthday party. Ghosn’s compensation was apparently a constant source of hostility, and it was unsurprisingly the focus of his initial prosecution, as he and HR chief Greg Kelly were accused of concocting a secret post-retirement payout package for Ghosn—a rather minor offense anywhere else, and about which there was little proof, since nothing had been written up, signed, or paid.

It thus seems reasonable that Ghosn saw himself as the focus of a potential witch hunt. His attempt to cast himself as merely a victim, however, falls apart once Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn gets to his post-escape life in Beirut, where he continued to live the high life while leaving those affected by his actions, be it Kelly or the Taylors, to twist in the wind. In numerous chats, Kelly refrains from overtly blaming his own grave legal troubles on his employer, but Taylor isn’t shy about his disgust for Ghosn. It’s easy to share his negative opinion once Ghosn’s greater potential crimes come to light. Via a confiscated hard drive that belonged to his late lawyer, Ghosn is outed as having supposedly laundered tens of millions of Nissan and Renault funds to shell companies that he controlled—all, it’s theorized, to make up for the fact that, thanks to the 2008 financial crisis, he was compelled to halve his $20 million annual salary.

Ghosn denies this in Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn, continuing to project himself as the wronged party. Yet with a French indictment currently hanging over his head—which he refuses to comply with, even though he admits that France’s legal system is more trustworthy than Japan’s—it’s likely that this much smoke indicates some sort of serious fire. Consequently, Jones’ engaging docuseries is a snapshot of people and systems that manipulate and exploit for gain, and the myriad others (from confidants and colleagues to conspirators and shareholders) who suffer for their sins.


August 2023