In the three years since Carlos Ghosn was detained on a Tokyo airport tarmac, much has emerged about how forces within Nissan Motor Co. worked to remove him. Yet a key group has avoided close scrutiny of their role in the once-powerful car executive’s downfall: the lawyers.

A small clutch of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP, one of the world’s largest law firms, advised Nissan for years on how to compensate its then chairman and CEO. That included the remuneration package that would become the basis of the first charges against Ghosn, for concealing the full extent of his income. Then, as Ghosn’s pay became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2018, Latham & Watkins was enlisted to investigate his alleged wrongdoing, despite warnings to Nissan’s board that it posed a serious conflict of interest.

"I was concerned right from the get-go about their involvement” in the company-ordered probe, said Ravinder Passi, Nissan’s former global general counsel. Passi sued the carmaker last year for wrongful termination, saying that he was dismissed after questioning whether the law firm acted in Nissan’s best interests. "I was incredibly surprised, and shocked. How is this going to appear when you’ve got the same lawyers investigating things, including their own work? The situation was ripe for misbehavior.”