TOKYO — By any measure, the downfall of Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn is an historic upheaval. But the scandal in Tokyo could have ongoing ramifications for the automaker, its management and Japan itself.
Ghosn's Nov. 19 arrest under an accusation of financial impropriety — he has not yet been charged with a crime — already has derailed at least one Nissan marketing initiative and fanned international intrigue in diplomatic circles in Paris and Tokyo.
Going forward, his ouster could trigger an executive shake-up at Nissan if Ghosn loyalists are purged or choose to leave on their own. Other Nissan executives may be felled by compliance sweeps as Nissan investigates how Ghosn's alleged malfeasance slipped through the cracks for so many years.
The accusations that Ghosn concealed his compensation plan from public disclosure documents also could ignite a wave of investor rights activism or even complicate the Japanese industry's fitful steps to globalize. The public uproar over Nissan even has reignited renewed scrutiny of corporate governance in Japan and the country's ruthlessly efficient legal system, with its 99 percent conviction rate.
"There are a lot of unintended consequences," said Christopher Richter, senior auto analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. "This is firing quite a bit of debate."
Ghosn's ouster did not merely dethrone one of the industry's most storied executives. It cast new doubt on the future of the auto empire he spent two decades cementing together as the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. Ghosn, 64, was confined to a small cell in a meagerly heated Tokyo detention center along with Nissan director Greg Kelly, 62. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, 65, has called the American executive Kelly the "mastermind" who finagled an alleged scheme to underreport Ghosn's compensation by some $80 million over eight years.