The four-part documentary series Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn takes an objective look at the great escape of the business tycoon, Carlos Ghosn, from Japan to Lebanon. Ghosn was known as the “turnover king” and “cost cutter” for changing the fate of companies such as Renault and Nissan. Renault was a sinking ship when Carlos Ghosn joined as CEO, and he took brutal measures to turn the company profitable. He did not hesitate to shut down factories that left thousands of French citizens out of work. While many took to the streets to protest against the sudden job cuts, Carlos Ghosn did not care as long as the decision benefitted the company. Ghosn adopted the same method after the Renault-Nissan alliance. Nissan was suffering from terrible debts, and Renault bought 37% of the company’s shares and took on an unthinkable challenge in the hopes of reaching a global audience. Ghosn managed to crack Nissan as well, but once again, the job cuts left many disappointed. Carlos Ghosn eventually became a celebrated figure in Japan.
Why Was Carlos Ghosn Arrested At First?
Carlos Ghosn’s lifestyle attracted a lot of public attention in Japan. He was the CEO of both Renault and Nissan, and at a time when both companies needed his attention, he was found missing. The financial crisis of the year 2008 impacted both companies massively. While Nissan was a few weeks away from running out of money, Renault had to seek help from the government to stay afloat. The 2011 tsunami had a tragic impact on Nissan, but surprisingly, their CEO was absent for the next ten days. It was evident that Ghosn was struggling to handle both companies, but there was no conversation about an alternative as well. The employees of both companies started to grow a sense of resentment toward Ghosn when they watched him live his best life away from all the mess.
Ghosn and his ex-wife, Rita Kordahi’s, divorce also caught the public’s attention. He was considered a family guy, but it all changed when he started to date Carole Nahas. Many blamed Carole for Carlos’ shift in behavior, but Carole believed that she brought out his fun side. Carlos Ghosn organized a party in the Palace of Versailles to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the alliance between Renault and Nissan, which was sponsored by both companies. Strangely enough, most of the guests invited to the party were Ghosn’s friends and family. The party was not about the two companies; it was rather the celebration of Carlos Ghosn. Clearly, Ghosn could not draw a line between his personal life and his professional commitments. He gradually tried to establish that he was not just a part of the two companies; he was indeed the only decisive figure to exist.
Along with Carlos Ghosn’s lifestyle, it was the rumor of the merger plan that led to the investigation (or so it is said by some) initiated by Nissan stakeholders. Ghosn had always spoken against the merger of Renault and Nissan, but it seemed that his opinion had drastically changed in 2018. There was a section of stakeholders at Nissan who feared that the Japanese automobile company would lose its autonomy and Carlos Ghosn would become the be-all and end-all figure. Investigating Carlos Ghosn was a protective measure for Nissan, and he was arrested as soon as he landed in Japan for a meeting. It was initially believed that Ghosn was arrested for underreporting his compensation and also for using company assets for personal benefit, but gradually, we learn through Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn that there was more to the story.
How did Carlos Ghosn escape from Japan?
Throughout the documentary series, Carlos Ghosn explained how he was tortured in Japan’s prison. He remembered how desperately they wanted him to confess, but he did not accept the charges. Ghosn had a troubled childhood as a result of an absent father and financial constraints. He believed his childhood contributed to his being emotionally strong, and that was why he did not break down. To the world, it did seem unjust how Carlos Ghosn was treated for a minor crime that could have been solved internally by the company. People assumed that the Japanese authorities were conspiring against him because of the stature he had achieved, but it gradually became clear that this was not the case. After being released from prison on account of gross human rights violations, Ghosn was once again arrested for financial misconduct. Nissan had access to a hard drive, and its content incriminated Ghosn for money laundering. It was a serious accusation, and Ghosn was once again in trouble.
Even though Carlos Ghosn was granted bail soon after, according to the conditions laid out by the judge, he could not contact his wife. Ghosn admits in the interview that that was the moment when he decided that he would flee the country. Carlos’ passport was taken away, and he was constantly monitored. His wife, Carole, sought help from Michael Taylor, a high school football coach and a former member of the United States Special Forces. Michael Taylor had a reputation for helping people escape once he believed in their cause. He used to be a private investigator with contacts in the Middle East and had his roots in Lebanon. Once Taylor learned about the torture Ghosn had to endure, he decided that he would help the business tycoon escape from the country.
Michael Taylor noticed that the returning luggage was not scanned at the Japanese airport, and he decided to take advantage of it. His plan was to fit Carlos Ghosn into a music box and fly him out of the country. Ghosn realized that once he called the media, the people monitoring his every move would disperse, and he used the knowledge to his advantage. Ghosn walked out of his house and met Michael and his son, Peter, at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. When Michael arrived in Japan, he had the music box checked, knowing that once it was checked during entry, it would not be scanned on his way out of the country. With Carlos’ face covered with a mask and sunglasses, the trio left the hotel and traveled by train. After reaching a hotel in Osaka, Carlos was asked to climb into the music box, which was shut from outside.
Carlos waited in anticipation and concentrated on the sound to get a sense of what was happening outside. After reaching the airport terminal, a few airport staff wanted to check the music box once again. Michael had intentionally arrived late to avoid any scrutiny, but the security guards were persistent about checking the box. Michael reasoned that his equipment could not be scanned, and he was allowed to leave with just a brief check. Even after the box was loaded into the private jet, the pilots were not given a signal for the next thirty minutes. The trio waited in anticipation, thinking of the worst possible outcome. But as we now know, things did go in their favor, and the plane took off. Carlos Ghosn successfully escaped from Japan and arrived in Beirut.
A Victim Or A Villain?
The news of Carlos Ghosn’s escape started to spread like wildfire. Carlos stated in a press conference that he had lost trust in the Japanese judicial system after he encountered inhumane treatment and torture. He fled the country, fearing for his life, and he continued to claim that he was innocent. Carlos Ghosn tried to establish that he was the victim in the given situation and that Nissan was trying to frame him. Ghosn’s escape was embarrassing for Japan, and the Japanese authorities desperately wanted to take action. Since it was not possible to extradite Carlos Ghosn from Lebanon, their next target was Michael and Peter Taylor. Michael’s face was captured in the surveillance footage at the airport, and after he returned to the United States, he and his son were arrested. Japan requested extradition, and the United States agreed to it. The father and son pleaded guilty.
In the court of law, Michael Taylor was announced two years of imprisonment. On the other hand, his son, Peter Taylor, was sent to prison for one year and eight months. The haunting memories of living in solitary confinement continue to trouble Michael and Peter, and the worst part is that Carlos Ghosn never cared to contact them. They were in prison because of Carlos, yet he never attempted to help them. When the interviewer asked Carlos about Michael and Peter, he brushed off the accusation and blamed the people who conspired against him for creating a hostile situation in the first place.
Things started to look bleak for Carlos Ghosn once Renault conducted an internal investigation. They had access to Carlos Ghosn’s hidden flow of money. He started to venture into illegal territories during the financial crisis, when he had to take a 50% pay cut. He was not happy about it, and he was searching for an alternative. The hard drive that was retrieved proved that an Omani businessman, Suhail Bahwan, and his associates had transferred billions of dollars to Carlos Ghosn. Ghosn and Bahwan’s business relationship started in 2004, when Suhail Bahwan set up a car dealership that was meant to sell both Renault and Nissan cars.
There are emails as stated in Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn that prove that bonuses from both Renault and Nissan were sent to the Omani car dealership under the instruction of Carlos Ghosn. Strangely enough, the same amount of money was sent from the dealership company to Ghosn’s shell company in Lebanon. It proves that Carlos Ghosn started to steal money from the companies when he was forced to take a pay cut. Carlos Ghosn defends himself and states that Suhail Bahwan had no interaction with the distributor. The main distributor in Oman was Suhail’s son, Ahmed Bahwan. According to Ghosn, Suhail Bahwan was not a part of the business anymore, and the money that was sent to the distributor was done legally. However, it is suspected that Suhail Bahwan played an influential role in the business, and Ghosn had developed a personal relationship with the distributor. Ghosn used the money sent from Oman to buy a yacht (indicating that it was the money he had stolen from the companies), and it, in a way, proved how desperately Ghosn wanted to join the billionaire club.
During Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn‘s ending, we learn that an international arrest warrant was released against Carlos Ghosn after the investigation conducted by Renault. While he cannot complain of an unfair trial in France, he refuses to leave Lebanon, stating that he does not have his passport. Ghosn believes that a fair trial can be conducted in Lebanon since he cannot move out of the country. It is evident that Carlos Ghosn will do anything in his power to escape from a trial, and many believe that the Lebanese government is protecting him. People such as the Taylors and Grace Kelly were put behind bars, and they had to face immense harassment for helping or even being associated with Ghosn.
Even though Grey Kelly has returned home to the United States, the civil suit filed by Nissan on account of Ghosn’s underreporting of compensation against him requires him to pay 12 million dollars. While his family desperately wants to move forward, the uncertainty holds them back. The Taylors hold a grudge against Carlos Ghosn. Michael Taylor met Ghosn after being released from prison, and he was surprised by Ghosn’s lack of gratitude for saving his life. While Ghosn had promised to pay Taylor’s legal fees, he simply stopped responding (as stated by Michael Taylor in the documentary series). Ghosn starts out as a victim of a brutal system, but eventually, he ends up being a villain for his lack of accountability. The fact that he is trapped in Lebanon is considered to be his lifelong punishment, but is that enough?