TOKYO — Though former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn is unlikely to stand trial in a real court, he has made himself a key witness in putting Japan’s justice system on trial.
In his first public appearance after fleeing to Lebanon, Ghosn lambasted what he called unfair detention and bail conditions, saying he was presumed guilty and had “zero chance” of a fair trial in a system rigged against him.
“I didn’t run from justice, I left Japan because I wanted justice,” the former auto industry icon said at a spirited two-hour news conference in Beirut.
With little chance they can extradite him, Japanese authorities struck back with words on Thursday.
Tokyo prosecutors, who arrested him in late 2018, said Ghosn had “only himself to blame” for being detained 130 days before being released and for strict bail conditions, including being banned from seeing his wife.
“Defendant Ghosn was deemed a high-profile risk, which is obvious from the fact that he actually fled,” they said.
Justice Minister Masako Mori denounced Ghosn’s comments as erroneous and credited Japan’s extremely low crime rate to a judicial system rooted in “its history and culture.”
Ghosn’s remarks, however, highlighted many of the issues human rights advocates call problematic in Japan’s system.
Because of Japan’s extremely low crime rate, how suspects are treated is surprisingly unknown to most Japanese, who tend to trust authoritative figures and assume no one gets arrested without a reason.
In Japan, suspects can be detained in solitary confinement without charge for up to 23 days. Charges can be filed piecemeal to prolong incarceration. Suspects are routinely grilled for hours each day without a lawyer present. Critics call the detention conditions mental torture.
Japan’s conviction rate is higher than 99%, a number that critics, including Ghosn, say indicates unfairness.
Japanese officials insist the conviction rate is so high because they don’t make mistakes and only guilty people are prosecuted. At the same time, they insist there’s a presumption of innocence.
It’s an entrenched system that not only leads to confessions but also has judges thinking suspects are guilty, said Tokyo defense lawyer Seiho Cho, who has been trying to change it.
“They really believe that this system is functioning efficiently and correctly,” he said.
Cho said Ghosn was a high-profile case, and the way regular suspects are treated is worse.
Those who insist they are innocent especially are detained longer, some for hundreds of days. Bans on contact with family members are also common, he said.
The ban in Ghosn’s case cited the risk his wife Carole might tamper with evidence. An arrest warrant was issued this week for Carole Ghosn on suspicion of perjury.
Carlos Ghosn argued the ban on contact with his wife was illogical because he was allowed to meet with other family members, implying the decision was meant to wear him out. His decision to escape was driven by his desire to be with his wife, he said.
The preparation for Ghosn’s trial had already taken a year, and the date for his trial was undecided. He was charged with underreporting of future income and breach of trust in diverting Nissan Motor Co. money for personal gain, the two separate charges complicating and prolonging his trial process.
If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison. Prosecutors also can appeal district court decisions.
“Even when they are eventually exonerated, they have already lost so much,” Cho said, noting some suspects have lost their jobs, their reputation, even their families.