Carlos Ghosn, the former rock star businessman who fell from grace and fled authorities smuggled in a music instrument box, is getting what his dramatic story deserves — a multi-part documentary series.
“Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn” is the juicy real tale of how the auto executive went from attending red carpets as the head of both Nissan and Renault to fleeing to Lebanon with the help of a former Green Beret.
“The Carlos Ghosn story is unbelievable in the sense that it’s a Shakespearean tragedy in which we have an archetypal tragic hero who everybody wants to root for but knows the train crash is coming,” said Sean McLain, a consulting producer on the Apple TV+ series and Wall Street Journal reporter.
The four-part series, which starts Friday, takes a wider lens to Ghosn’s story, tracing the childhood and rise of the auto executive which Time magazine once put ahead of Bill Gates among the 15 most influential global business executives.
Voices included are Louis Schweitzer, former CEO of Renault; Andy Palmer, former COO of Nissan; Arnaud Montebourg, former French minister of economy; Takashi Yamashita, former Japanese minister of justice; and Hiroto Saikawa, former Nissan CEO.
Most crucially, director James Jones went to Lebanon and sat down with Ghosn and his wife, Carole, on camera. Jones got the job before he’d secured access to the couple but knew he had to have them participate.
“You need to hear from the people in the room. You can’t just have pundits commentating on what happened or kind of rehashing the story second-hand,” Jones says. “For me, getting Carlos and Carole Ghosn to talk frankly was a huge thing and I think that the series would have been a struggle to make without that.”
Many viewers may tune in because of the brazen way Ghosn left Japan in 2019 after being accused of financial improprieties. He turned to Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret, who hid the executive in a large music instrument box — with breathing holes drilled in — and got him out on a private jet.
“My initial reaction was like, ‘Is there enough for four parts?’ I know he’s an interesting guy who is a brilliant businessman, and the escape is thrilling,” said Jones. “But then when I spent the time reading up about it, it did feel rich and the kind of thing that’s quite satisfying to really get your teeth into.”
The Brazilian-born Ghosn took refuge in Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, which has no extradition treaty with Japan. He denied the financial improprieties charges and said Japan’s justice system was unfair. “I did not escape justice. I fled injustice,” he said at the time.
The series also investigates Japan’s legal system, which critics say amounts to “hostage justice,” allowing suspects to be questioned for days without a lawyer present while they are kept in solitary confinement in a small, spartan cell. The conviction rate of over 99% has raised questions over forced confessions.
The case against Ghosn centers on elaborate calculations to compensate him after retirement for a pay cut he took beginning in 2009, when disclosure of big executive pay became a legal requirement in Japan.
Ghosn argues the case against him was concocted in a power struggle within Nissan’s boardroom and the series does show a conspiracy by Nissan officials to get rid of Ghosn because they feared a merger with Renault.
“He was wronged and yet these allegations look very bad,” said Jones. “And by hiding out in Lebanon, he’s not helping the appearance of innocence.”
Ghosn may have escaped but not everyone who helped him did the same. Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison, while his son, Peter, was sentenced to one year and eight months for his part. They claim in the series that Ghosn never paid them for their work helping him escape.
Jones sees the Ghosn saga as a cautionary tale of a leader who lost his bearings. The executive may have believed that because he’d saved Nissan and Renault that he deserved extra compensation.
“He thought he had saved these companies from extinction and made them successful and made them in his own image and therefore was kind of entitled to play by his own rules to some extent,” he said.
McLain, whose book with fellow Wall Street Journal reporter Nick Kostov “Boundless” informed the series, said Ghosn’s fall illustrates the need for checks and balances in the C-suite.
“He was going to retire a very wealthy man, but because he wanted more, what he’s going to be known for from now on is spiriting himself away from Japan by hiding in a box.”
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