When opining on an unfolding situation—a case of “watch this space”—it is always difficult to come in midway and be very conclusive about ramifications, leave alone analysing sagely, who is right, who was wrong, or what could be the long-term implications.
The Carlos Ghosn saga is a case in point, made all the more difficult by the sheer silence on the part of the protagonist, an entire week since his incarceration. But, in the meantime, he has been shorn off the chairmanship of two of the most storied Japanese carmakers ever, Nissan and Mitsubishi, one of which he saved from possible obscurity, whilst retaining the stewardship of the French giant Renault for now.
Of course, this could change if enough evidence is provided to the French government, which owns 15% of Renault and the Renault board in connection with the charges brought against him by no less than Japan’s deputy attorney general, Shin Kukimoto.
But rather surprisingly, it has been a week since Mr Ghosn was—dramatically—arrested just as he descended from his private jet at Tokyo airport, completely unaware of what was awaiting him, yet the French counterparts have still not received any conclusive documentation supporting the accusations.
"You would be surprised at what we found. It's intolerable," said interim chairman and Mr Ghosn’s number two till a week ago, Hiroto Saikawa, in a letter addressed to Nissan employees.
But, for now, neither Renault nor the French authorities have had access to the results of the Japanese automaker's internal investigation against Carlos Ghosn, despite repeated requests.
In the meantime, all we have are the statements of the Tokyo prosecutor and information selectively disseminated to the Japanese press.
Officially, the prosecutor's office accuses Carlos Ghosn of having knowingly undervalued, from 2011 to 2015, his remuneration in the financial reports that Nissan must regularly submit to the stock market authorities.
In total, the French boss, who was at the time the chief executive (CEO) of the manufacturer, would have declared revenue less by about 5 billion yen, or 39 million euros.
From a recent Japanese TV report, Mr Ghosn, who has not yet been indicted for this offense under the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law (FIEL), denies these accusations in their entirety.
The question that is being asked is: Is the indictment of Mr Ghosn really one for 'misconduct,' or is it one for having succeeded—a Gaijin, a foreigner, who had overstayed his welcome—one who had stayed too long thinking naively that he was no longer considered a foreigner in Japan?
Mr Ghosn, as you must have read in several other reports, landed in Japan in 1999 as a white knight to save Nissan, the dying old lady of the Japanese automobile industry, the oldest of the Japanese Big Three.
The Japanese industrial world was bemused, even tolerant and welcomed the man who would be called "le cost killer." Not only did the otherwise suspicious Japanese society adopt this samurai Frenchie-Lebanese-Brazilian, they even made him a manga star.
It was the honeymoon years; but then honeymoons do not last for ever.
In the times of crisis, people tend to glorify and honour the hero who gets them out of trouble. But as soon as the crisis is over, the mediocre take over and they resent the hero more and more.
Winston Churchill paid for it, soon after winning WW II.
It is now Carlos Ghosn, who is being made to pay.
He stayed too long in Japan, he was adulated when he saved Nissan, but once company had been saved, and was healthy once again, the leadership of a Gaijin had become questionable.
Even if Ghosn leadership, as well as the collaboration with Renault in 1999, was lifesaving for Nissan, by 2018, the Japanese automaker is in a position to erase the past and launch itself into, what Saikawa expects, a new era of playing Big Brother.
One may even speculate that it is not Mr Ghosn who is the one really targeted, but it is Renault, Europe and France, as it is symbolically this triumvirate that came to Japan to save an industry in distress.
It was not even three decades ago that Japan was the dominant player in the world’s automobile industry, today it has slipped to an ailing third, and soon to be overtaken by a certain developing nation called India.
Japan has always been a very proud nation. But excessive pride can eventually be detrimental to the nation’s business and political acceptance across nations. Especially so in a time of globalisation and internationalism.
(Gautam Sen is acknowledged globally as a leading automotive journalist, writer, automotive design consultant and expert from India. He founded the country’s first newsstand car magazine Indian Auto in 1986, followed by Auto India, Auto Motor & Sports and BBC’s TopGear. Mr Sen has also been directly involved with the automobile industry in India and Europe, and has worked with eminent designers such as Gerard Godfroy, Tom Tjaarda and Marcello Gandini