Carlos Ghosn, ex-Nissan CEO, flees trial in Japan for Lebanon

Business titan escaped in an audio equipment box

Today's expression: Take a hit
Explore more: Lesson #224
January 13, 2020:

Carlos Ghosn, former Renault-Nissan CEO, was awaiting trial in Japan for a number of white-collar crimes. Japanese officials kept delaying his trial, so Ghosn secretly fled Japan for Lebanon by private plane. Ghosn is not completely free quite yet. His past business dealings in Israel could pose legal problems for him in Lebanon, too. Plus, learn what it means for someone to ‘take a hit.’

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A high-profile CEO facing trial in Japan has escaped to Lebanon. Japan learned about it on the news

Hi there, I’m Jeff, JR is the producer, and this is episode 224 of Plain English, your recipe for success, the best podcast for practicing your English. You can find all the resources that go along with this episode at PlainEnglish.com/224.

On today’s episode, Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of the carmakers Nissan and Renault, has escaped from Japan, where he was supposed to face trial for white-collar crimes. In the second half of the episode, we’ll talk about the English phrase “to take a hit” and we have a quote of the week from Carlos Ghosn himself.

Before we start, though, I wanted to ask you to take a moment to join our email list, if you’re not already on it. As a special thank-you, JR and I will send your our best tips for practicing English online and we’ll give you the opportunity to tell us more about yourself. That’s all in addition to the episode emails, which include extra free resources that we can’t fit into the episode. So come join us by visiting PlainEnglish.com/mail .


Executive’s daring escape from Japan

Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of carmakers Nissan and Renault, staged a dramatic escape from Japan, where he was being held in advance of a trial for white-collar crimes. His passports had been confiscated and he was prohibited from leaving the country. His attorney says that he’s baffled by what happened. Now the Japanese government, deeply embarrassed, faces the collapse of a high-profile trial of a vilified business executive. Japanese authorities learned about his escape on the news.

Ghosn might not be a master criminal, but he is a master strategist. As boss of Nissan and Renault, he ran a sprawling global empire, with offices and factories around the world. Nissan, a Japanese corporate champion, was on the verge of bankruptcy in the 1990s until Ghosn engineered its turnaround. He was a celebrity in the Japanese business community and was even once featured in a comic series.

Then he was arrested in 2018 for misappropriating company funds and under-reporting his income to regulators and tax authorities. His reputation in Japan took a hit. He had pledged to defend himself in court, but the trial kept getting delayed. A hearing on Christmas Day further pushed his trial date into the future. That’s when he decided to go to Plan B.

Plan B was escape from Japan. It was a daring, high-risk maneuver, but he appeared to plan it carefully. It’s not immediately clear how he escaped. Some initial reports said he sneaked out in a box used for storing audio equipment, but other officials denied that was the case. However, he does appear to have flown out of the country on a private plane, which flew through Istanbul before going onward to Lebanon. Officials in Turkey have arrested pilots and others they suspect of having been involved and accused them of human trafficking.

Why Lebanon? Though born in Brazil, Ghosn spent his childhood in Lebanon and remains something of a hometown hero there; he is a Lebanese citizen. His face was once on a postage stamp; people there appreciate that he has been an unofficial ambassador to the small country around the world. After news of his escape spread, billboards went up in Beirut, the capital, showing his face above the words, “We are Carlos Ghosn.”

Ghosn says that he wasn’t fleeing justice, but that he was fleeing injustice. Though the Japanese will see it differently, he has a point. In the Japanese justice system, 99 percent of defendants who are indicted, are convicted of their crimes. He says he was framed by “back-stabbing” Nissan employees who resented his management style and feared that he would have engineered a merger with another company. He said he could not have gotten a fair trial in Japan.

His trial will likely not take place. The most recent timeline had it starting in April 2020, but Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan, meaning that he won’t be sent back there to face trial. The Lebanese government says he is in the country legally, having presented a French passport; the Lebanese foreign minister expressed support for him.

Could he be tried for the same crimes in Lebanon? It is possible but unlikely. The entire case has been built in Japan and was built for the Japanese justice system. It seems highly unlikely that Japan would surrender the evidence and the entire case to a different country’s justice system, even if prosecutors in Lebanon wanted to put him on trial.

Does that mean the executive is safe in Lebanon? Not exactly. As boss of Nissan, he traveled to Israel on business. Israel and Lebanon have, officially, been in a state of war for 60 years and citizens of Lebanon are prohibited from traveling to Israel. The penalty for that is 15 years in a Lebanese jail.


Whoa. I’d love to hear what people are saying about this in Japan. I can’t read the Japanese news or really get the Japanese perspective, except through American or British reporting, so for those of you in Japan who follow this, leave a comment below this episode at PlainEnglish.com/224 and let me know what people are saying about this over there. Wow.

Time to say hi to a few listeners—let’s say hello to some Japanese listeners today. Momoko from Tokyo is listening. She is a nurse in a veterinary clinic and she likes karaoke in her spare time. Also Sho is a university student in Tokyo as well and he says his English test scores have improved since he started listening to Plain English. So Sho, congratulations on all your hard work, and thanks to you and Momoko for being a huge part of Plain English.

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Expression: Take a hit