Ravinder Bassi, a former lawyer, was a privileged witness during the downfall of Carlos Ghosn, the ex-Nissan boss.
The dramatic fall of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn at the end of 2018 made headlines around the world, as did his audacious journey from Japan to Lebanon more than a year later.
“thecrazyBoyNT control of the asylum.”
According to his lawyer, “the lunatics took over the asylum.” It’s a web of intrigue that leads to the arrest and then dizzying flight of one of the world’s most famous business owners.
Throughout the case, as Nissan’s first general counsel, he witnessed the collapse of a company he called “the asylum-grabbing lunatics.”
At the time of Carlos Ghosn’s arrest, Mr Pacey, a 45-year-old Briton, was working as global general counsel for Nissan, leading a 250-person team. He was asked to take part in the investigation into Mr. Ghosn’s “affairs”.
Today the lawyer says he has no idea whether the former chairman of the board is guilty of the charges he faced in Japan.
But it paints a startling picture of the differences and imbalances within Nissan itself.
His efforts to expose what he saw as broader wrongdoing within the company, says Ravinder Bassi, had serious personal consequences, leading to his demotion and eventual dismissal from Nissan, as well as his relegation. Homeland by Japanese prosecutors and the end of eight years in the country.
In November 2018, senior Nissan executives set a trap. They directed their boss and close partner Greg Kelly to Tokyo for an urgent high-level meeting.
But when Mr. Ghosn arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, he soon found himself under arrest. He was accused of financial crimes, including failing to report his real income.
The plaintiffs, according to the lawyer, acted on the basis of information provided by Nissan itself, most of which was gathered by Mr. Ghosn’s chief of staff, Harry Nada.
Ghosn’s lawyer exposed
Ravinder Bassi was among a handful of people within April who knew of the planned arrests. But even at this early stage, he says he had deep skepticism about the process.
He explains, “I was called to Harry Neda’s office…and they told me there was going to be an amazing arrest. She arranged the most publicity for me.”
“When you lie to someone, to bring them back to a certain jurisdiction, so that you can arrest them in a very public way, that tells us a lot about what’s going on.” pointed out.
He said the chief of staff, Harry Nada, had already struck a deal with prosecutors, providing them with information to use against Ghosn, in exchange for immunity from his involvement.
The deal was necessary because Mr. Nada himself was involved in shaping the financial arrangements that prosecutors said were illegal and justified Mr. Ghosn’s arrest.
For Bassey, this was a serious issue: “Alarm bells sounded immediately. Anyone involved in the core activity is supposed to be excluded from the investigation – not charged.”
As the story spread, unusual things began to happen. And there were major leaks in the media, who said that she “pictured Ghosn in particular and was in favor of Nissan.” This information, he says, came directly from the CEO’s office, for which Mr. Nada was in charge, and some of it was “top secret”.
Other concerns emerged from the investigation itself, which implicated not only Mr. Nada, but also the CEO himself in a serious conflict of interest. These included the fact that Mr. Saikawa himself had signed documents relating to wage agreements that later turned out to be illegal, which Mr. Saikawa later admitted to in court.
Upon discovering these issues, Ravinder Bassi became concerned for his safety. Having witnessed – he said – two foreign executives were lured to Japan, arrested and publicly imprisoned, he was concerned about the treatment he himself would receive if he spoke.
Several foreign executives abruptly left the company, including performance director Jose Munoz, a key ally of Ghosn. Then, in September 2019, CEO Hiroto Saikawa himself was ousted – after admitting he was unduly overpaid.
But the changes at the top have not reduced the pressure on would-be whistleblowers. In May 2020, Nissan ordered the Ravender Passi to leave Japan within days. As he was preparing to leave, a raid on his home took place, carried out by Nissan and court staff, with police support.
However, Mr. Pacey, unable to “defend the indefensible,” says he first wrote to the chairman of the audit committee at Nissan, then contacted the company’s independent directors.
No action was taken and a period of what Mr. Pacey described as “gas lighting” on the part of the company followed. He was removed from Ghosn’s investigation and relieved of most of his duties.
Disputes and settling accounts in the Nissan board of directors did not end with the arrest of Carlos Ghosn.
The disembarkation in front of his wife, Sonia, and their four young daughters was to retrieve a company laptop and phone. According to him, the computer contained evidence of “inappropriate and blatant” behavior on the part of Nissan executives.
The Ravinder Passi is no longer employed by Nissan. He was removed from his high-ranking job in Japan last year and sent to work in the UK. After leading a team of 250 people, he found himself working with only two other people. He was fired shortly thereafter and has since filed a complaint against Nissan in labor court for unfair dismissal.
The automaker also stressed that it had “strengthened its management structure by making it more independent and transparent” and had strengthened its internal audit procedures.
In retrospect, Ravinder Bassi describes his Nissan experience as “a bit surreal.” He says the whole thing still baffles him.
Nissan, which continues to use Harry Neda, declined to answer a list of questions from the BBC about Bassi’s allegations, on the grounds that it was not commenting on a pending lawsuit.
But the company stressed that its internal investigation into the Carlos Ghosn case was “rigid and thorough”. It claims to have found “substantial and compelling” evidence that Mr. Ghosn “willfully committed gross misconduct and material breaches of company ethics”.
After all, he points out, companies regularly let go of their top executives. But this rarely happens in an “artificial and theatrical” way the company has dumped Carlos Ghosn, the star, from its board of directors.
Mr. Ghosn then claimed that he was the victim of a plot orchestrated by Mr. Nada and Director General Hiroto Saikawa, along with senior government officials.
He said the plot was to scuttle the proposed merger between Nissan and its French partner Renault, which they fear would give French shareholders too much influence over the Japanese carmaker.
The accusation has been repeatedly denied by Nissan and CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who has since left the company.
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