Carlos Ghosn sues Nissan for $1bn over his removal

The former car executive filed his claims in the Court of Cassation in Lebanon, where he has lived since leaving Japan

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn still faces criminal charges in Japan over an alleged plot to underreport his compensation. AP
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Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Nissan Motor, has filed a lawsuit against the Japanese car maker and connected individuals for removing him in 2018 and arranging his arrest on charges of alleged financial misconduct.

Mr Ghosn is claiming more than $1 billion for “deep damage” to his finances and reputation.

The former car executive, who negotiated Nissan’s alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, filed his claims with the public prosecutor in the Court of Cassation in Lebanon, where he has lived since leaving Japan in late 2019 to avoid trial.

The lawsuit was submitted on May 18 and translated into English from Arabic.

The arrest of Mr Ghosn, 69, sent shockwaves through the global car industry and unleashed turmoil within Nissan that continues to this day.

Mr Ghosn has regularly criticised Nissan and Japanese legal authorities for removing him from the world’s biggest car alliance.

He still faces criminal charges in Japan for what prosecutors describe as a plot to underreport his compensation, as well as a lawsuit filed by Nissan in Yokohama.

In his lawsuit Mr Ghosn said the “serious and sensitive accusations” against him “will linger in people’s minds for years”.

He added that he “will suffer from them” for the remainder of his life, as they have “persistent and lingering impacts, even if based on mere suspicion”.

Mr Ghosn is claiming $588 million in lost compensation and costs, as well as $500 million in punitive measures.

Nissan’s shareholders also suffered losses after the company squandered its first-mover advantage with respect to electric vehicles. Mr Ghosn is no longer a shareholder in the Japanese company.

Mr Ghosn was sent by Renault in 1999 to turn around the Japanese car maker, which had been struggling before receiving a cash injection from the French company.

He later became chief executive of both companies and chairman of the alliance.

I don’t think they can right the wrong, because the damage is so deep – this is intended to repair part of the damage that has been done
Carlos Ghosn, former head of Nissan Motor

The lawsuit also makes claims against at least a dozen people, including:

  • Hari Nada, a Nissan employee seen as one of the key instigators of the plot to remove Mr Ghosn
  • Hidetoshi Imazu and Hitoshi Kawaguchi, two senior Nissan managers with early involvement in Nissan's actions against Mr Ghosn
  • Toshiaki Onuma, a manager in the chief executive's office who, along with Mr Nada, agreed to co-operate with Japanese prosecutors to avoid prosecution
  • Masakazu Toyoda and Motoo Nagai, two Nissan board members

A representative of Nissan said the company had yet to receive the lawsuit or be made aware of it, and therefore could not comment on Mr Ghosn’s claims.

The lawsuit includes other people and entities, which have not yet been served, according to Mr Ghosn’s legal representative.

Lebanon’s public prosecutor has set a hearing for September. Authorities in Lebanon can request co-operation from their Japanese counterparts to investigate Mr Ghosn’s assertions.

It is not clear whether Japan’s judicial system, which Mr Ghosn has said is “rigged” and “violates the most basic principles of humanity”, would be willing to co-operate with authorities in Lebanon, which does not extradite its citizens.

In 2020, a UN panel found that Mr Ghosn’s detention in a Japanese jail for more than 100 days was neither necessary nor reasonable and breached his rights.

The decision to arrest Mr Ghosn four times in a row so as to extend his detention was “fundamentally unfair,” according to the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The 18-page claim includes Mr Ghosn’s plan to bring Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors under a grand alliance with Fiat Chrysler, which he says stoked concerns within Nissan in early 2018 that he was seeking to make the partnership irreversible.

Mr Nada and others then laid the groundwork to have Mr Ghosn arrested in order to remove him from Nissan and the alliance, according to the former car executive.

Mr Ghosn also described his intention to take a voluntary pay cut in 2011 after new disclosure rules in Japan triggered efforts to find legal means to retain and pay him during retirement.

Those plans eventually became the basis for the arrest of Mr Ghosn and Greg Kelly, a former Nissan director who was involved in the salary discussions.

A trial verdict last year exonerated Mr Kelly of most charges and imposed a fine on Nissan.

The former car executive described how he received job offers by Volkswagen, Ford Motor and a more lucrative salary to join General Motors, but decided to stay with the alliance following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Mr Ghosn said the efforts within Nissan to find ways to compensate and keep him were made criminal because that was the only way for the “conspirators” to remove him from the board of directors.

US father-son duo admit helping ex-Nissan chief Ghosn flee Japan

US father-son duo admit helping ex-Nissan chief Ghosn flee Japan

Mr Nada and others then waged a “defamation campaign” to tarnish his image, Mr Ghosn asserts in the lawsuit.

The claim also details the involvement of the Japanese and French governments, the purge of certain people from Nissan following Mr Ghosn’s arrest, issues with the company’s internal investigation into the matter and damage done to shareholders as a result of the actions.

In a way, the lawsuit is the crystallisation of Mr Ghosn’s efforts to clear his name following his arrival in Lebanon, where in early 2020 he held a news conference denouncing his arrest.

The former executive spent part of his childhood in the country and lives in a house that was bought and restored by Nissan, which he had planned to buy from the company upon retirement.

“They cannot plot a lie and cheat and get away with it,” Mr Ghosn said by telephone from Beirut.

“This is just a small response to the damage they created. I don’t think they can right the wrong, because the damage is so deep – this is intended to repair part of the damage that has been done.”

Updated: June 20, 2023, 11:31 AM