Lebanon News

Ghosn case cautions reverence for Lebanese diaspora

Ghosn receives a plaque displaying a LibanPost stamp made in his honor, beside Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah (center left). Aug. 28, 2017.

When news broke of Carlos Ghosn’s arrest on charges of financial misconduct, many Lebanese were incredulous. “Now that’s not something we’d want to be hearing about Carlos Ghosn,” began a post on the Ghosn case on popular blog BlogBaladi last week.

The Lebanese-Brazilian chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, maybe more than anyone else, embodied the near-mythical status of the hardworking Lebanese expatriate who achieves greatness abroad.

Ghosn was arrested by Japanese authorities a week ago following an internal investigation at Nissan. He has reportedly denied any wrongdoing.

Almost immediately, allegations of some form of foul play surfaced both from ordinary Lebanese and from government officials.

Tuesday, Lebanese caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi tweeted, “Verification is absolutely necessary, and there is a not-so-clean smell.”

He later reiterated his claim in a phone call with The Daily Star: “There may be a third party involved in targeting him because of his success or his wealth.”

Riachi said Ghosn was not the first Lebanese expat to have been targeted for his success, though “he could be guilty or not – but let’s not jump to conclusions, because one is innocent until proven guilty.”

The Foreign Ministry at the time noted that Ghosn, a Lebanese citizen, is “one of the Lebanese successes abroad,” and added that it “will stand by him in his ordeal to ensure that he receives a fair trial.”

Last year, LibanPost unveiled a stamp honoring Ghosn in Beirut at a ceremony attended by the telecommunications minister.

Reverence for Ghosn has in no way been limited to Lebanese, with titles given to him abroad including “Mr. Fix it,” and “Superman,” for his successes in reforming both Renault and Nissan, bringing the latter back from the brink of bankruptcy in the late ’90s.

But Lebanese politicians, with little to show in the form of success at home and unable (or unwilling) to tackle rampant corruption and create opportunities, have highlighted the successes of the diaspora and of Ghosn in particular.

They do this at Lebanese Diaspora Energy conferences frequently held around the world, which have the stated goal of bringing together those of Lebanese heritage living abroad and funneling investment into the country.

“I am proud of people like Carlos Ghosn, who raised Lebanon’s name all over the world,” then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in April at a Paris edition of the LDE conference.

“The reason for Carlos Ghosn’s success is that he worked and made reforms.

“He took charge [of] a company that was suffering from problems, and we have a country with problems where we cannot continue working without reforms.”

Indeed, Lebanese abroad are somehow perceived to be above the corruption and mismanagement that is so prevalent at home.

Despite the fact that he has not been convicted of anything yet and has denied the charges against him, perhaps Ghosn’s story will become a cautionary tale, rather than a fairytale.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 26, 2018, on page 3.

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