Carlos Ghosn and Jeff Bezos.
Carlos Ghosn and Jeff Bezos. Image Credit: AFP

The only thing tougher than rising to the top, it seems, is the struggle to stay there. For two financial titans who have raced their way to fame, it is now time to deal with infamy.

Carlos Ghosn, the once three-firm CEO who navigated the loopy roads of automotive management, has been languishing in a Japanese jail for 64 days.

His face weary, his frame visibly lighter, Ghosn now contends with the once-unthinkable — giving up his assets and freedom of movement — just to get a get-out-of-jail-now pass.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who has seen the top of the richest man in the world list for years, is not only on the cusp of giving up that title to his soon-to-be-ex wife but also he faces a crisis of confidence — in him by his investors.

Here we look at these two men and the rickety tightrope they must walk across.

Who is Carlos Ghosn?

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Passersby are silhouetted as a huge street monitor broadcasts news reporting ousted Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn's indictment and re-arrest in Tokyo, Japan Dec. 10, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

Ghosn, 64, is credited with turning around a struggling Nissan and is so well-known in Japan that he has a manga based off his life.

A Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, with work experience in the US, Ghosn was sent to Nissan in 1999 by Renault SA of France, which owns 43 per cent of Nissan.

Ghosn led Nissan for two decades, winning admiration for his managerial prowess by transforming it from near-bankruptcy into one of the world's biggest and most successful auto groups.

However, the successful businessman’s compensation has long been a sticking point in Japan, where the income difference between executives and workers is so minimal that company presidents are also called "salarymen."

Ghosn has said he deserved pay comparable to other star leaders of global companies.

What happened to Ghosn?

The business magnet’s rude shock came on November 19 when his private jet landed at a Tokyo airport. In came the officials bearing cuffs and declaring an arrest.

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A courtroom sketch of Carlos Ghosn Image Credit: AP

Since then, he has been seen in public only once, in a dramatic court appearance where the much thinner executive pleaded his innocence in a packed courtroom.

His wife, Carole, has appealed to Human Rights Watch, claiming he is being held in "harsh" conditions and subjected to round-the-clock interrogations intended to extract a confession.

The charges against Ghosn are that he under-declared his income in official documents to shareholders over an eight-year period - an apparent bid to dodge accusations he was overpaid.

In addition, prosecutors have formally charged him with involvement in a complex scheme they say was designed to make Nissan pay for personal investment losses sustained in the financial crisis of 2008.

Last week, Nissan's Japanese alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said it was investigating millions of dollars of salary and bonuses allegedly paid to Ghosn by the automakers' joint venture in Amsterdam last year.

As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasise that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the Court concludes are warranted.

- Carlos Ghosn

No charges have been filed on these payments, which are separate from the compensation from Nissan cited in the charges already filed.

Meanwhile, Ghosn is preparing to learn of a court ruling in the case of his appeal for bail; he has vowed to remain in Japan if released and offered to provide more collateral; the ruling is set to be announced on Monday.

In a statement released earlier in the day, he said in a statement released by his US-based representatives: "As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasise that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the Court concludes are warranted."

He vowed to attend any subsequent trial "not only because I am legally obligated to do so, but because I am eager to finally have the opportunity to defend myself".

"I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom," concluded the statement.

A spokeswoman for Ghosn, Devon Spurgeon, said his family had already rented an apartment in Tokyo where he promised to reside while awaiting trial.

He has also promised to hand over his passports, refrain from contacting people connected with the case and pay for security guards approved by prosecutors to monitor his movements, according to Spurgeon.

She added that Ghosn has also offered a higher bail fee by stumping up Nissan stock as collateral and promised to wear an electronic tracking bracelet paid for by himself.

However, an official at the Japanese justice ministry told AFP: "There is no system in Japan in which a person accused in a criminal case can be released with such a tracking bracelet."

"The court sets the bail sum and can also add appropriate conditions such as limitations on where the accused should stay," added the official.

And so the vedict has been passed: The Tokyo court had denied his bail request

How long may he have to spend in prison?

In Japan, suspects are often kept in detention until trials start, especially those who assert innocence, in what has been criticized as "hostage justice". Tokyo prosecutors contend that Ghosn is a flight risk and that he might tamper with evidence. Legal experts, including Ghosn's lawyers, say preparations for trials as complex as Ghosn's can take six months or longer.

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Pigeons fly near Tokyo Detention Center, where former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is detained, in Tokyo. Image Credit: AP

The court has already rejected previous attempts at securing his freedom on bail.

What does Ghosn’s arrest mean for the automotive industry? What’s going on with Nissan?

His arrest has thrown into question the future of the auto alliance he forged, for one thing. Nissan immediately ousted him as chairman after the arrest, as did Mitsubishi Motors, the other Japanese firm in the three-way alliance with Renault.

Nissan Motor Co.
A car believed to be carrying company executives leaves the Nissan Motor Co. Global Headquarters in Yokohama near Tokyo Thursday, November 22, 2018. Image Credit: AP

The French firm is expected to meet later this week to discuss removing Ghosn as chairman and CEO. French government officials have already urged the company's board to pick a "new lasting leadership".

Late Sunday, Nissan held an inaugural meeting of a special committee designed to improve governance in the wake of the scandal.

The head of the committee, Seiichiro Nishioka, said the problem was "an excessive concentration of authority in the hands of a single person".

The committee is expected to meet three or four additional times before issuing a final report at the end of March.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on Sunday denied talk of a potential merger between Renault and Nissan, despite reports in the Japanese media that Paris was pushing for that outcome.

"The subject is not on the table today. What is on the table today is the governance of Renault," he told journalists during a visit to Cairo.

"The most important thing for us is to have solid, stable, sustainable governance for Renault."


Jeff Bezos and wife
Jeff Bezos and his wife Image Credit: File photo

To really get an idea of why the founder of Amazon – the ship-to-doorstep retailer – is such a HUGE deal, consider this: An Oxfam report out on Monday morning put Bezos’ Amazon stake at $112 last year. Ahem, one per cent of this number, explains the report, was the equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country that’s home to 105 million people.

Now consider the break-up of a power couple who have been married for more than 25 years. While the fallout is inevitable – it is also a wallet deflator.

So far, investors have hardly reacted to the Bezos breakup - Amazon's shares are up slightly since the announcement. That might be partly because the couple went out of their way to characterize the split as amicable, saying they plan to "continue our shared lives as friends."

When many billions of dollars are at stake, amicable divorces are rare, even when they start out that way. "Most divorces start out contentious and end contentious," said Samantha Bley DeJean, a matrimonial lawyer in San Francisco, who has worked with many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and represents Angelina Jolie in her custody battle with Brad Pitt. "When they start out amicably, you hold out some hope that they'll stay that way, but in my experience it only gets worse."

How much could he stand to lose?

A divorce could reshape the global wealth ranking. If the couple split their fortune equally, it could leave MacKenzie, 48, with $69 billion, making her the world's richest woman. It could also make Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, currently worth $92.5 billion, the planet's richest person once again. Bezos eclipsed Gates in October 2017.

The state of Washington - where Amazon is based and the couple have a home - is a community property state, which means all property and debt acquired during a marriage "will be divided equitably by the court if the couple cannot negotiate an agreement," according to the website of McKinley Irvin, a family law firm in the region.

There is no set formula in Washington law as to how assets should be split, said Jennifer Payseno, a partner with McKinley Irvin in Seattle who handles high-net worth divorce cases for the firm. Wealthy couples often agree how to divide their assets before bringing the matter to a judge, and those details are often filed confidentially with the court.

"My guess is they've probably have already worked up some sort of framework, and that's why they're announcing it now," Payseno said of the Bezoses. "It's not going to be made public."

Washington state also mandates a 90-day cooling off period between the day a couple initially files for divorce, and the soonest it can be finalized by a judge. A search of King County public records on Wednesday turned up no such filing from Jeff or MacKenzie Bezos.

What’s the pre-nup situation?

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What's the situation? Image Credit: Pexels

While it’s unclear whether the Bezoses have a prenuptial agreement, a split is unlikely to be as acrimonious. Because so much of their wealth is tied up in a publicly traded company, both have an interest in a business-like divorce, said Michael Stutman, a divorce attorney at Stutman, Stutman & Lichtenstein in New York.

"They have a mutual interest in making sure that no one is concerned that the ship has sprung a leak," he said. "You need to filter their public comments through that lens."

Future of Amazon

Amazon shares ended up 0.2 per cent last Wednesday. The divorce should have no material impact on the company and its shares, said Tom Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co.

According to Refinitiv Eikon data, MacKenzie does not hold any Amazon shares directly, while Bezos has a 16.1 percent stake worth about $130 billion. Forbes magazine now estimates his overall net worth at $137.1 billion.

Liat Sadler, a San Francisco matrimonial lawyer, noted that spouses owe a fiduciary duty to one another.

They have duties not to waste or devalue marital resources, and to keep the value of marital property as high as possible" she said. I don't think there is an issue of concern for shareholders as to what will happen to Amazon because of the divorce." Sadler said the main options facing the couple regarding Amazon stock were for Jeff Bezos to buy out his wife, or for MacKenzie Bezos to retain shares.

"If she trusts that he would manage Amazon well, either he should pay her for her share of the stock, or they could enter a more complicated agreement where she keeps stock and he keeps voting rights" she said.

From modest beginnings, Amazon branched out into almost every product category, taking on established retailers such as Walmart Inc.

In November, Amazon picked America's financial and political capitals for massive new offices, branching out from its home base in Seattle with plans to create more than 25,000 jobs in New York City and a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.

How did their marriage fall apart?

What really went wrong? Image Credit: AP

MacKenzie's presence with the company faded in the years that followed Amazon’s founding. Most high-ranking employees saw her at social events the couple hosted at their Medina home and elsewhere.

They'd also be spotted at Lakeside, a Seattle private school, with their children. When Amazon showcased its new biospheres, the plant-filled architectural centerpiece of its Seattle headquarters, the couple toured the building with a horticulturist.

MacKenzie also accompanied her husband to Hollywood events after Amazon began a concerted push into video and original programming.

After her husband became rich and famous, MacKenzie strove to retain her privacy, according to three people close to Bezos, who requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of the subject.

MacKenzie's primary influence on Bezos and Amazon was to provide encouragement in the early years and support through tumultuous times, one of the people said.

-With inputs from agencies