A Guide to Understanding Carlos Ghosn’s “Not Guilty” Plea

by Sachiko Ichikawa
Comment by Nicholas Benes

Carlos Ghosn held a press conference on January 8, 2020 to present his “not guilty arguments” regarding the alleged crime of making, or not preventing, misrepresentations in Nissan’s Security Reports. He had already disclosed the testimony he made at the Japanese court which was considering his bail in 2019. So this was the second time that he has defended himself in public.

Mr. Ghosn spent more than one hour for his presentation, and even showed many slides and materials, but his logic for insisting on his innocence was not easy to understand. To me, his 2019 testimony in court was better than his 2020 televised presentation.  In an attempt to connect the dots, this article will explain my own interpretation of what Mr. Ghosn really wanted to say.

Discussion in Japan About “Clawback Clauses”

In Western countries, many companies have introduced “clawback clauses” that require executives to return performance-linked compensation to the company in certain cases. In Japan, very few companies have such clauses. There are dissident voices saying things like “compensation of Japanese executives is less than in Western companies, so there is no need to do that,” or “if you want to demand the return of paid compensation, you can file a derivative lawsuit.” In this article, I would like to review the arguments that have been made so far about clawback clauses, and consider the arguments that should be made in the future.

Disclosure of Executive Compensation Required by New Cabinet Office Order… and Companies’ Responses

On January 31, 2019, the Cabinet Office Order on Disclosure of Corporate Affairs was amended, and the format of for securities reports was changed. With regard to the securities reports for the fiscal year ending March 2019, it is said that the employees in charge of dealing with the new format were put under considerable stress and extra work. The most troubling item was probably the section on executive compensation.

The revision of the Cabinet Office Order was made in response to the Financial Council Disclosure Working Group (DWG) report published on June 28, 2018. Mr. Carlos Ghosn was arrested in November of the same year, and executive compensation, which has been a subject of much debate for some time, once again disturbed the public mind. The new format, modified under these circumstances, calls for broader and detailed information disclosure. However, the top executives of many companies view disclosure of compensation as undesirable, because it has carries the potential for divisiveness or embarrassment. Mr. Ghosn’s false statement of compensation was attributable to this sense of aversion. Not only him, but also many other executives, desire as a basic human emotion to avoid disclosure of the amount of their compensation.

What were these two contradictory vectors, – requirements from Cabinet Office Order, and the company leaders’ intentions – reflected securities reports? Although we should wait for the thorough analysis on many securities reports published at the end of June 2019, in this article I would like to convey the initial impression that I obtained by surveying a few of them.

Work Style Reform in Japan

On July 12, 2019, I gave a presentation about Work Style Reform in Japan at a seminar organized by the Japan America Society of Washington DC in the beautiful meeting room of the Groom Law Group. The talking points in my presentation were the background of the reform (political background and male dominated office), the major points of amendment to laws, the problems and keys to improving productivity, the young generation’s view of employment activity and work-life balance, protection for non-regular employees, and some implications to businesses in Japan. The questions and opinions raised by the participants were as follows.

Is Mr. Ghosn’s understatement of compensation ”material”?

Mr. Ghosn and Nissan are charged with misrepresentation of securities reports.  The Financial Instruments and Exchange Act provides for civil liability as well as criminal liability for acts of misrepresentation of securities.  Nissan will face a civil lawsuit seeking damages from investors in no distant future.  One of the issues that will be argued in civil lawsuits […]

Damages Estimation- How Much Will Nissan Have to Pay to Investors?

Mr. Ghosn’s criminal cases are ongoing. But the criminal cases alone will not put a close to this entire ordeal. It is a matter of time for Nissan to face civil cases filed by investors. Due to Mr. Ghosn’s understated compensation, it is anticipated that a considerable amount of assets will flow out of Nissan. The largest part of this outflow will be accounted for the damages claimed by and awarded to investors in civil lawsuits. What amount of assets will flow out of Nissan? This memo is an attempt to estimate the probable size of these damages.