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Ghosn after his December 30 Arrest (New York Times)

On 19 November 2018, Carlos Ghosn traveled aboard his private jet from his vacation home in Beirut to his family home in Tokyo. The journey should have been a routine one for Ghosn, a then CEO of both Nissan and Renault and the first person ever to be at the helm of two fortune 500 companies simultaneously, but upon landing he was caught with surprise as Japanese officials placed him under arrest for questioning with allegations of embezzlement and false accounting. That same day, Nissan announced that Ghosn had been removed as CEO and dismissed from the company entirely. Media reports claim that Ghosn had stolen tens of millions of US dollars from Nissan by means of a shell in order to purchase homes in Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Paris, and Amsterdam, and New York as well as fund dozens of lavish vacations.

Under Japanese law, Ghosn was able to be held for 23 days without any criminal charges being filed against him and thus without bail. At the end of this period, however, Japanese prosecutors charged Ghosn and one of his associates with “underreporting of deferred compensation”, a charge which although not serious, allowed him to be held for another several weeks without bail. This process continued until Ghosn’s arraignment on 8 January 2019 when he came out publicly for the first time since his arrest to claim innocence and plead for bail. Once again, though, Ghosn was denied bail. It was only in March that Ghosn was finally offered a bail of nine million US dollars with the agreement that he would remain under house arrest and 24-hour surveillance with no internet access, but was arrested once again after tweeting “I’m ready to tell the truth.” Finally, in April Ghosn posted bail and was allowed out on house arrest, marking 108 days since he had first been detained and four months since he had been allowed to see his family. During his time in Japanese custody, Ghosn was allegedly at times kept in solitary holding, denied his lawyer, and violently interrogated—all of this without ever being convicted of a crime.

On 30 December 2019, over a year after his initial arrest, something extraordinary happened. Ghosn escaped his house, disappeared out of thin air, and reappeared in Beirut the next morning. In a statement released to the New York Times, Ghosn said that he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant and basic human rights are denied,” and that he had not fled, but “escaped injustice and political persecution”.

Though there are many theories as to how Ghosn was able to escape to Beirut, they are not important to this course. Rather, what is relevant about Ghosn is his identity as a transnational criminal because of not only his refusal to adhere to the rules of one country, but also because of his unique background. Ghosn was born in Rio de Janiero and spent the first years of his life there before moving to Beirut. There, he studied at French schools before moving to Paris for university. After graduating as an engineer, Ghosn worked for Michelin Tyres in both France and Germany before being appointed as an executive of Michelin South America in Rio de Janiero. Soon, he was promoted to CEO of Michelin North American division and moved to Greenville, South Carolina where he spent several years raising his family. Finally, Ghosn moved to Japan to aid in a merger between Renault and Nissan, eventually becoming CEO of both companies and staying there until his escape in 2019.

While one does not necessarily need to ever leave their home to participate in transnational history, Ghosn is in many ways the embodiment of the transnational citizen and businessman. Moving constantly throughout his life, Ghosn learned to speak four languages fluently, secured three citizenships, and bought property in seven countries. As we have seen in Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, there are many people who have lived this ‘transnational life’, but what makes Ghosn interesting to me is not his background, but rather his ability to leverage it along with his influence to reject the Japanese justice system and secure freedom.

The Escape of Carlos Ghosn