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.

Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan – Preliminary Analysis of Causation

On December 11, 2019, Nicholas Benes gave a lecture on Corporate Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan at the Securities Analysts Association of Japan. It was generally well-received and covered the following topics:

  • An Introduction to BDTI
  • General Trends in Corporate Governance
  • Correlation Analysis on Relationships Between Corporate Governance and Firm Performance, and the Direction of Causation
  • Advice for Investors and Prospects for Future Research
  • Appendix: Preview of our internal corporate governance relational database

Of note were the three main themes that were discussed: (1) There are visible relationships between certain corporate governance practices and financial performance (2) the direction of causation is most important to confirm, and so far, BDTI’s analysis suggests that a number of specific governance practices actually do seem to “cause” improvement rather than simply serve as evidence that management wants to “look good”; and (3) this information is vitally useful for analysts and investors alike, in order to improve the effectiveness of investor engagement that enhances profitability, growth and stock performance in a win-win cycle.

“Japan’s Unfinished Corporate Governance Reforms”, by Nicholas Benes

My article on Japan’s unfinished reforms is online now. Lest the Abe administration and regulators “declare victory” when they are only half done, I describe seven specific measures that Japan needs to adopt in order to bring its market up to a global standard for a developed nation:

  1. Detailed rules for an independent committee
  2. A clear requirement for a majority of independent directors on the board
  3. Codifying the role and responsibilities of executive officers
  4. Consolidation of overlapping disclosure reports
  5. Protection of minority shareholder rights
  6. Enhancing transparency to reduce entrenchment and enhance inclusiveness
  7. Strengthening stewardship throughout the investment chain

I stress the reality that in all of these, strong political leadership from the Prime Minister and other senior parliamentarians will be needed. “Thus, is it essential that the Tokyo Stock Exchange (JPX/TSE) and the various regulatory agencies keep up reform momentum. However, one senses a desire from these groups to ‘declare victory’, and they have a tendency to not fully coordinate with each other. If Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet did more to make the key players coordinate their efforts in key areas, meaningful governance change (and protection of investors) would accelerate….

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.