We may never truly know all the corporate skullduggery that went on at Nissan to get former boss Carlos Ghosn arrested and incarcerated in Japan, a country he ultimately fled in a box in what may be the greatest escape caper in corporate history. Nor may we ever truly know which accusations against Ghosn are or are not true. But Bloomberg News thinks it has a pretty good fix on the mastermind of the putsch, a Nissan senior vice president named Hari Nada.
Nada, Bloomberg says, is “an insider known for his aggressive tactics and fondness for Marlboros, French cuff shirts and strong cologne.” In a 4,600-word investigative piece, Bloomberg dials in on Nada, 56, as having directed other senior executives in a plot to bring down Ghosn, starting a year before his arrest in Tokyo. “The aftermath has been messy,” Bloomberg puts it mildly, with Nissan losing billions of dollars, its management in disarray, and the alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi strained to the limits. The fortunes of the three automakers were sent reeling, with the coronavirus pandemic piling on. For his part, Ghosn is living in Lebanon as an international fugitive.
Nada’s role was basically as chief of staff to Ghosn, a position from which he could see that the chairman intended to strengthen the alliance, bringing the players together in one holding company. Nissan executives have long resisted closer ties and chafed at the company’s junior-partner relationship with Renault, though ironically Ghosn’s plan would have brought Nissan more of the parity it has always craved. Ghosn also wanted to expand, possibly by a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Among Bloomberg’s new discoveries:
- Nada arranged to have Ghosn’s corporate email hacked, unbeknownst to key IT personnel or Nissan’s CEO. This began months before Nada began working with prosecutors in a secret deal that afforded him immunity.
- José Muñoz, a former Nissan exec and ally of Ghosn’s, feared arrest — and refused to Tokyo when summoned — after being tipped off by the U.S. and Spanish ambassadors to Japan. Muñoz is now chief operating officer at Hyundai.
- Top Nissan corporate counsel Ravinder Passi says he was retaliated against after raising complaints against Nada to Nissan’s board. He says Nissan initiated a police raid of his home, which Bloomberg has on video.
- Nada purged other executives deemed rivals or disloyal and apparently became quite unpopular. He was assigned a bodyguard, a car and driver, and was placed in a $12,000-a-month luxury apartment.
- Nada’s machinations at Nissan continued well after Ghosn was gone. He remains at Nissan in an advisory capacity and is scheduled to testify in January against former Nissan exec Greg Kelly, who was arrested along with Ghosn.
Bloomberg based its piece on interviews with a dozen players, video footage and newly uncovered corporate documents. For a full sense of this Yokohama-based bit of Shakespeare, read the investigation here.