Business

Friday 17 January 2020

Ghosn escape puts price of freedom at hefty $30m

Saturday insight

Ghosn for a song: The former Nissan boss fled Japan for Lebanon over the Christmas period. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/2020 Bloomberg Finance LP
Ghosn for a song: The former Nissan boss fled Japan for Lebanon over the Christmas period. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/2020 Bloomberg Finance LP
Ghosn for a song: The former Nissan boss fled Japan for Lebanon over the Christmas period. Photo: Toru Hanai/2020 Bloomberg Finance LP

Tom Metcalf and Yuko Takeo

The cost of Carlos Ghosn's escape included $14m (€12.6m) in forfeited bail money, while the operation that saw him celebrate New Year's Eve in Beirut could have cost $15m or more.

That includes $350,000 for the private jet that spirited the former auto executive from Osaka to Istanbul, and millions of dollars for his multi-country extraction that would have taken a team of as many as 25 people half a year to plan, according to a private security expert who said he was not involved and asked not to be identified.

Such outflows have seen Mr Ghosn's fortune shrink by 40pc since he was arrested more than a year ago at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, according to estimates by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His fortune is now calculated to be about $70m, down from around $120m at the time of his first court appearance a year ago.

In fiery, freewheeling form at a two-and-a-half-hour press conference in Beirut on Wednesday, Mr Ghosn, 65, repeatedly proclaimed his innocence against allegations he understated his income and raided corporate resources for personal gain; accused Japanese prosecutors, government officials and Nissan executives of conspiring to topple him; and insisted he would clear his name.

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"I am used to what you call mission impossible," he said in response to questions. "You can expect me in the next weeks to take some initiatives to tell you how I'm going to clear my name."

That might include a tell-all book. Mr Ghosn plans to publish the story of his arrest, according to a report by Japanese public broadcaster NHK. His downfall has already seen him lose millions in payouts. Last year, Nissan cancelled retirement and stock-linked compensation.

Renault said he would not benefit from a non-compete agreement he signed in 2015 and stock-based payments that were conditional on his staying at the company.

Many of the charges against him centre on retirement payments, totaling more than $140m, which he had not yet received.

That may be just the start. French investigations examining the possible misuse by Mr Ghosn of Renault's money to host parties and pay consulting fees are at a preliminary stage. The former auto executive also agreed to pay $1m to settle a civil complaint from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which said he failed to properly disclose potential retirement payments, without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

At his press conference, Mr Ghosn claimed he had done nothing untoward in hosting an event at the Palace of Versailles.

Regarding the SEC fine, Mr Ghosn's lawyers said previously: "We are pleased to have resolved this matter in the US with no findings or admission of wrongdoing."

Mr Ghosn's US law firm, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP, declined to comment on Bloomberg's wealth estimates or on the SEC settlement. His Lebanese lawyer also declined to comment.

Nissan is looking at bringing legal action against Mr Ghosn in Lebanon, people familiar with the company's plans said, to recover money it claims he used improperly. The car maker is trying to evict him from the villa in Beirut to which he still has access.

Nissan purchased it for $8.75m, renovated it and furnished it for him, according to a person familiar with the matter.

"Ghosn's flight will not affect Nissan's basic policy of holding him responsible for the serious misconduct uncovered by the internal investigation," the Yokohama-based auto maker said on Tuesday.

Authorities may be looking to seize some of his assets. In Switzerland, where Mr Ghosn reportedly banks with Julius Baer Group, authorities received a legal aid request from the Tokyo District Attorney's Office a year ago, a spokeswoman for the agency that received the notice said.

It examined the request before forwarding it to the Zurich prosecutor's office in March. A spokesman for the Zurich prosecutor's office declined to comment on the nature of the request or what it is doing with it.

At Japan's request, Interpol issued a so-called Red Notice in Mr Ghosn's name, making it known to other law enforcement authorities that the country considers him a fugitive.

Lebanese prosecutors have issued a travel ban for Mr Ghosn and took his French passport, justice minister Albert Sarhan said in an interview.

It is not clear if any of Mr Ghosn's assets have been seized. In criminal court cases in Japan, a defendant's assets cannot be confiscated until a court verdict is reached, according to Taichi Yoshikai, a law professor at Kokushikan University.

Assets can only be frozen if they are linked to certain types of offences, related mainly to organised crime.

Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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