At 10.30 pm on a chilly December night in 2019, a former titan of the worldwide car industry lay bundled inside a box on board a plane, waiting to escape Japan.
“The plane was scheduled to require off at 11 pm,” recalls Carlos Ghosn.
“The half-hour waiting within the box on the plane, expecting it to require off, was probably the longest wait I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Now, for the primary time, the person who was once the boss of both Nissan and Renault has detailed his daring escape.
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Mr. Ghosn tells how he disguised himself to slide unnoticed through the streets of Tokyo, why an outsized music equipment box was chosen to smuggle him out of Japan, and therefore the elation he felt when he finally landed in his native Lebanon.
“The thrill was that finally, I’m getting to be ready to tell the story,” he said.
Mr. Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 over allegations by Nissan that he had understated his annual salary and misused company funds, which he denies.
At the time, Mr. Ghosn was the chairman of the Japanese carmaker. He was also chairman of France’s Renault and therefore the boss of a three-way alliance between both carmakers and Mitsubishi.
His cost-cutting at Nissan – initially controversial – was ultimately seen to possess saved the carmaker and he became a highly respected and recognizable figure. But he insists he was “collateral damage” during a fightback from Nissan against the increasing influence of Renault which still owns 43% of the Japanese company.
Documentary series Storyville details his extraordinary rise and sudden fall in Carlos Ghosn: The Last Flight which can be shown on BBC 4 on Wednesday Bastille Day
‘Shock, frozen trauma’
Describing the instant of his arrest at Toyko airport three years ago, Mr. Ghosn said: “It’s like you’re being hit by a bus or something really very traumatic happened to you.
“The only memory I even have of this moment is shock, frozen trauma,” he said.
Mr. Ghosn was taken to the Tokyo bullpen where he was given prison clothes and confined to a cell. “All of a sudden I had to find out to measure without the watch, without the pc, without the phone, without the news, without the pen – nothing,” he said.
For quite a year, Mr. Ghosn spent long periods in custody or was held under confinement in Tokyo after being bailed. it had been not clear when an attempt would happen – the fear was it could take years – and Mr. Ghosn faced an extra 15 years in prison if convicted, during a country that features a 99.4% conviction rate.
Carlos Ghosn: the autumn of the god of cars
It was during a period of confinement when Mr. Ghosn was told he wouldn’t be allowed to possess any contact together with his wife, Carole, that he decided to seek out how out.
“The plan was I couldn’t show my face so I even have to be hidden somewhere,” he said. “And the sole way I might be hidden [was] to be during a box or be during a luggage so nobody could see me, nobody could recognize me and therefore the plan could work.”
He said the thought of employing a large box that might normally contain musical instruments “was the foremost logical one, particularly that around this point there have been tons of concerts in Japan”.
But how would someone once so famous – now infamous – in Japan be ready to get from his range in the capital to an airport and make his escape?
The plan was, said Mr. Ghosn, to behave as normally as possible on the day. “It should be a traditional day where I even have a traditional walk with normal clothes, normal attitude, and every one of a sudden, everything changes.”
Mr. Ghosn would need to swap the suits he’d worn for years as a status executive within the global automotive sector for something a touch more casual. Think jeans and trainers.
“You can imagine I had to travel places where I never been, buy clothes I’ve never bought,” he said. “All of this was a part of how does one gives yourself a maximum chance of being successful and absolutely not drawing any attention to yourself.”
From Tokyo, Mr. Ghosn traveled by bullet to Osaka where a personal jet was waiting at the local airport to depart. But first, the box, which was expecting Mr. Ghosn at a close-by hotel.
“When you get within the box, you do not believe the past, you do not believe the longer term, you only believe the instant,” he said.
“You’re not afraid, you do not have any emotion except the large concentration on ‘this is your chance, you cannot miss it. If you miss it, you are going to pay together with your life, with the lifetime of a hostage in Japan’.”
Mr. Ghosn was transported from the hotel to the airport by two men, father and son Michael and Peter Taylor who were posing as musicians.
In all, Mr. Ghosn reckons he was within the box for around an hour and a half, though it felt love it lasted “one year and a half”.