Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn paints a stark picture of greed and escape
“Who is the victim?” asks Carlos Ghosn. “It’s me.”
Yes, poor Carlos, the former CEO of Nissan and Renault. And for the first three of four episodes of Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn, it could be true.
Then, in episode four, director James Jones drops the hammer on Carlos’ head. There are several victims, sure, but Carlos Ghosn is not among them.
The docudrama, now playing on Apple TV+, is at times tedious but never uninteresting, though it might have been served better with three episodes instead of four. If you make it through those first three, however, by all means watch the fourth. You’ll feel a bit had for buying into three episodes’ worth of Ghosn’s “poor-me” routine, only to have the tables turn in the conclusion. (His second wife, Carole, co-stars and sings a slightly different verse of Ghosn’s song.)
There’s no argument that Ghosn, just as he had done at Michelin, gave Renault a boost and arguably saved Nissan. He did it largely by trimming; he was called Le Cost Cutter in France. He was not, based on my very limited experience with him, a particularly savvy product guy. All that said: Did he deserve to be blindsided by Nissan’s case against him, which landed him in jail?
Ghosn’s excesses are well documented. Looming large is a party he threw that was supposedly in honor of the 15th anniversary of the coupling of Nissan and Renault, held at Versailles with a Louis XIV theme, which we’re told cost about $750,000, but that seems low. Ghosn hosted a lot of friends and relatives, but virtually no business associates, which you’d think he might have included. The media loved to talk about the party, which Carole complained was “petty” of them. Nissan and Renault, of course, picked up the tab.
Ghosn blames the fact that he was planning a formal merger of Nissan and Renault (Renault owned 37 percent of Nissan), which Nissan executives did not want, as one reason for the “fake” charges the company leveled. But the real reason was that, during the recession, Ghosn had to cut his own salary from $20 million a year to $10 million. Calling it “deferred compensation,” he and a Nissan executive are said to have cooked up a way to pay Ghosn millions more, ostensibly after he retired. And there is apparent evidence that, separately, Ghosn funneled $50 million from the company and back into his own pockets.
The financial bits essentially fill episodes one and two. The payoff in episode three is a nuts-and-bolts explanation of how Ghosn escaped from Japan, where he was out of jail on $4.5 million bail. Former U.S. Green Beret Michael Taylor, who has ties to Lebanon, planned and personally orchestrated Ghosn’s escape. Taylor acquired a large, rolling musical instrument case, drilled holes in the bottom so Ghosn could breathe, and spirited the multi-millionaire out of his apartment, onto a train, and onto a private jet that Taylor had hired.
It was brilliant. Ghosn climbed from the box in Lebanon—he grew up there, a country with no extradition to Japan—and promptly phoned his pal, the president of the country, to let him in on the scheme. There Ghosn remains.
“I didn’t flee from justice,” he says, in a well-practiced line. “I fled injustice.”
Japan in general, and Nissan in particular, did not see it that way. They weren’t amused by the escape as the rest of the world. Nissan’s attorneys promptly shared their investigation with Renault, which launched its own investigation, and it revealed similar anomalies. Then there is the matter of a hard drive once maintained by Ghosn’s late attorney, the contents of which “shock the conscience,” according to a lawyer for Renault. That company and Nissan issued an “international” arrest warrant for Ghosn, but he’s safe for the time being Lebanon.
The escape gave Ghosn “another chance at life,” he says, and not a terribly bitter one by the looks of it. He is apparently stuck in Lebanon, yes, but he is a national hero there. For a man used to trotting the globe in private jets, of course, the situation may seem a bit confining.
I mentioned there were a few actual victims: One is Greg Kelly, the Nissan head of human resources, who was told by his boss, Ghosn, to help draft the “delayed compensation” scheme. The other two are Michael Taylor and his son, who helped with the escape. Not only did Ghosn fail to pay the Taylors’ operational expenses, he ultimately left Michael stuck with $1 million in legal bills. Kelly and the Taylors spent far more time in jail than Ghosn.
Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn is a tale with a clear perspective, well-told and with a moral reflecting on the consequences of hubris and greed. Now, we wait for the inevitable feature film.