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Ghosn's price for escape from Japan: his career

Sullied reputation and fugitive status leave former jet-setter with few options

Carlos Ghosn led the Nissan Motor-Renault alliance to success, but his unlawful escape from Japan has left a stain on his record.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn's dramatic escape from house arrest here, which has entangled the U.S., the Europe and the Middle East along with Japan, is certain to have broad repercussions -- not least for Ghosn himself.

The operation has been likened to something out of a Hollywood movie and captivated the world. Yet the degree to which people sympathize with Ghosn varies widely.

Polling by three French publications found that around 60% to 80% of respondents said he was right to flee Japan. But the move has also drawn condemnation, and not only from Tokyo.

Lebanon has seen a wave of mass anti-government protests amid public anger over widespread corruption and deep economic malaise, and suspicion of Beirut's involvement in Ghosn's vanishing act has only fanned the flames. Young protesters have called him a symbol of corruption among Lebanese elites.

The former Nissan chief's escape is in no way the flight to freedom he has made it out to be. Going abroad while on bail was an end run that made a mockery of Japan's rule of law and sovereignty over criminal justice and immigration, and the criticism Ghosn has faced for it is justified.

This is not to say that he does not deserve praise for his skill as a manager. He turned around a Nissan on the brink of collapse and led an alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors that for a time stood at the pinnacle of the auto industry.

Since Ghosn's November 2018 arrest and subsequent ouster from management at Nissan and Renault, earnings at both automakers have slumped. The executives who initially took over the top two posts at each company have since resigned or been forced out. More than 10 senior officials in all have left Renault and Nissan since Ghosn's removal.

While Ghosn's leadership has been described as autocratic, it may have been what bound the Franco-Japanese alliance together.

Yet for all his talent, the moment Ghosn broke Japan's laws and became an internationally wanted fugitive, he closed off any possibility of returning to prominence as a global executive.

In a settlement of fraud charges against Ghosn, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred him from serving as an executive at a listed American company for 10 years. He remains under preliminary investigation in France over allegations of using Renault assets for personal benefit and could face charges should he return there.

Ultimately, Ghosn has only himself to blame for the blemish on his track record and the end of his management career.

If he wanted to clear his name and stage a comeback, he should have stood trial properly in Japan. Ghosn may avoid legal trouble in Lebanon, but his fugitive status will likely limit where he can work. If he chose to flee understanding this, then his unprecedented escape leaves a worse taste in the mouth.

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