On New Year’s Eve, news broke that former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn had fled Japan where he was on bail awaiting trial for alleged financial misconduct. Ghosn stated he has “not fled justice” but “escaped injustice and political persecution” in Japan.
Ghosn was previously most well-known for turning around loss-making companies in the motor industry. He was hailed for successfully turning around Renault and Nissan as well as being instrumental in their alliance with Mitsubishi Motors – collectively, these three companies were producing one in nine cars sold worldwide as of 2019.
Now he is better known for his arrest in Japan in November 2018 after being removed as chairman from Nissan and Mitsubishi and forced to resign as Renault CEO. Ghosn faces a number of criminal charges in Japan in relation to Nissan, including allegations that he:
(i)under-reported profits in filings to the Tokyo Stock Exchange;
(ii)failed to report his receipt of share price-linked compensation of c.USD36m or annual compensation of c.USD1m-1.5m from overseas subsidiaries;
(iii)under-represented his remuneration (reducing it by c.USD73m over eight years); and
(iv)used company funds for personal purposes (including property renovations and family holidays) and misrepresented the company’s investments.
The revelations of accounting malpractices have seen Nissan share prices and profits fall, to the dismay of its shareholders. In response, at a recent shareholders meeting (held in February 2020), Nissan gave an apology for the misconduct and promised better governance and transparency. This was not the first sign of remorse; last year Nissan agreed to pay a fine to settle civil fraud charges brought by the US SEC relating to a concealed plan to pay Ghosn more than USD 140m in retirement benefits.
Nissan’s public admissions and shaming of Ghosn may in time assist with reputational and revenue recovery, but in the meantime may serve to fuel securities claims as share prices continue to fall and directors are scrutinised for their failure to intervene in serious corporate governance and shareholder reporting failures.