Carlos Ghosn always said he was set up.
Now there’s some evidence to support his claim. According to people familiar with what happened and previously unreported internal correspondence, the campaign by top Nissan Motor Co. executives to dethrone one of the most celebrated leaders in the automotive industry started almost a year before Ghosn’s arrest in late 2018 for alleged financial misconduct.
The effort was motivated in part by opposition to the former chairman’s push for greater integration between the Japanese carmaker and long-time alliance partner Renault SA, the new information reveals.
While Nissan has long maintained that the decision to oust Ghosn turned on allegations of under-reporting his income and other financial transgressions leveled by Tokyo prosecutors, the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favorable to Nissan.
A chain of email correspondence dating back to February 2018, corroborated by people who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, paints a picture of a methodical campaign to remove a powerful executive. The information comes to light as another former Nissan executive and the company itself face a looming trial in Tokyo, and as Japan seeks the extradition of Ghosn, 66, who fled to Lebanon in a daring escape last year.
Alarmed by Ghosn’s pledge in early 2018 to make the alliance between the companies irreversible, senior managers at the Japanese automaker discussed their concern at how the chairman of both Nissan and Renault was taking steps toward further convergence, according to people familiar with discussions at the time.