Dubbed ‘Lebanese legend,’ auto industry titan Carlos Ghosn, arrested in Japan on charges of committing financial crimes, is an all-time icon for the Lebanese people.
Lebanese Chamber of Commerce Chairperson Mohammad Choucair rushed to defend Ghosn saying it is only just to do so, not because the Brazil-born 64-year-old is of Lebanese descent but because the charges leading to the arrest are “unconvincing.”
Ghosn is suspected of understating his income by around $44 million over five years. He denies these charges and has not been able to make any public defence as he is in a Tokyo detention centre.
A widespread media spectacle surrounds Ghosn's arrest but little truth has been uncovered. One of the many presumptions made is that the tycoon is paying the price for a defiant comment he made in June on Renault maintaining its presence in Iran despite the threat of US re-imposed economic sanctions.
"We will not abandon it (the Iranian market), even if we have to downsize very strongly," he said at Renault’s annual shareholders' meeting in Paris.
This scenario is categorically ruled out by Choucair, who said the comment dates back months and that Ghosn, since then, has backpedalled from such a decision.
Speaking to 7D News, Choucair put forward another explanation for the arrest, one which involves merger negotiations held between French and Japanese carmakers Renault and Nissan. A deal would have ended the current strategic alliance between the companies and unite them as one corporation but also would have tipped the scales in Renault’s favor.
Renault currently owns 43% of Nissan whilst the Japanese carmaker has a 15% stake in its French counterpart. Carlos Ghosn, then chairperson of both companies, was driving the negotiations and was set to run the combined entity.
Nissan, while almost 60% bigger than Renault by sales, remains junior in their shareholding structure, which includes the right to make senior appointments at the partnership management team. One theory is that it may be Tokyo’s belief that removing Ghosn from the picture would open room for new negotiations and that this was the motive for the tycoon’s arrest.
Ghosn has served as the CEO of Michelin North America, chairperson and CEO of Renault, chairperson of AvtoVAZ, chairperson and CEO of Nissan and chairperson of Mitsubishi Motors.
Ghosn was also chairperson and CEO of the "allied" Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi consortium, a strategic partnership between Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault through a complex cross-shareholding agreement.
Japan had expressed concerns over France seeking to take control of Nissan and Mitsubishi. In France, there are suspicions Ghosn may have been targeted so as to hinder French influence and trust has been undermined on both sides.
A looming feeling of crisis at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that Nissan and Mitsubishi will be taken over by the French government is another theory put forward about the reason behind Ghosn’s seizure.
Choucair described Ghosn’s case as “poorly directed theatre,” pointing out that circumstances surrounding the arrest were unorthodox and did not fit the “rationale of first notifying and summoning Ghosn—he was captured at an airport instead.”
The top economist views Lebanese people standing in solidarity with Ghosn as natural, given he has not been indicted yet.
In the aftermath of the arrest, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil summoned Japanese Ambassador Matahiro Yamaguchi in Beirut and asked for a fair and transparent investigation that meets international standards and allows Ghosn to communicate with his family and lawyers.
Social media networks in Lebanon were shocked by Japanese authorities placing Ghosn in custody and many officials tweeted in his defence.
Lebanese Information Minister Melhem Riachy urged Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to act swiftly and intervene and communicate with Japanese authorities so that justice is ensured for Ghosn, whom he called a “very successful businessman of Lebanese origins.” Riachy queried the charges facing the globetrotting polyglot on twitter.
A number of Lebanese politicians also expressed their support, including head of the Progressive Socialist Party and former MP Walid Jumblatt, who described Ghosn as “the great Pharaoh” who paved his own way.
“Will we know what the secrets are behind Carlos Ghosn’s arrest?” Jumblatt asked.
Caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk described Ghosn as “the Lebanese phoenix” who “will not be burned by the Japanese sun.”
“Ghosn has an extraordinary success story and is perhaps the second most influential figure in the history of the auto industry, the second in history after Henry Ford,” Machnouk added.
Lebanese economic organisations joined forces to voice their support for Ghosn and belief in his innocence.
Despite gaining attention worldwide, the so-called Ghosn scandal has not managed to shake Lebanese faith in a person they see as the hero who saved Nissan from bankruptcy, who ranks among the world’s top 50 in politics, and who has inspired books written in Japanese, French and English.