What Next For Carlos Ghosn?

Nissan's ex-CEO flees to Lebanon.

Shortly before the new year, Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO and chairman of Nissan, skipped bail and fled Japan to Lebanon. His audacious attempt to escape charges of financial misconduct was a dramatic turn in the long-running scandal at the Japanese carmaker.

The Brazilian-born businessman, who also has French and Lebanese nationality, now has time to try to clear his name from abroad. But that doesn’t guarantee his hold on liberty. Anthony Hanratty, a senior associate with London-based law firm BDB Pitmans who specializes in extradition, explains to Global Finance that as long as the fugitive executive is in Lebanon, which doesn’t extradite its own nationals, the Japanese cannot prosecute him, despite Interpol’s issuance of a “red notice”—an international “wanted” notice—at Japan’s request.

“There’s going to be a little bit of a stalemate. [Japan] will be trying to negotiate his surrender from Lebanon; and that will be done through diplomatic channels, but it can be difficult,” Hanratty says. “But there is a long-standing principle that if a country doesn’t extradite, it has a duty to investigate whether it should prosecute [for] itself.”

If it plays out that way, Hanratty explains, Ghosn may decide to go to France, where he stands a better chance of a fair trial. France is already investigating his alleged financial misconduct in connection with Paris-headquartered car-maker Renault, which entered into a strategic partnership with Nissan during his tenure as Nissan’s CEO. But for now the decision whether to prosecute is up to the Lebanese authorities, who have seized his passport.

“The Lebanese authorities will be conscious of not portraying themselves to the outside world as harboring fugitives,” adds Hanratty. “They will want to look as if they are doing something about it.”

Back in Japan, the debacle has also triggered further probes into the activities of Ghosn’s ex-colleagues; and Japan Inc. may engage in much soul searching about its corporate culture. The visible downfall of a man perceived as a maverick and a reformer, however, is unlikely to spur much change in the deeply conservative country.