Tue, Dec 25, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ghosn’s arrest highlights Japan’s ‘hostage justice’


A cameraman on a ladder stands by outside Tokyo Detention Center, where former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is being detained, on Friday last week.

Photo: AP

Since his arrest on suspicion of falsifying financial reports, former Nissan Motor Co chairman Carlos Ghosn has been sitting in a humble cell for more than a month, interrogated day in and day out, without a lawyer present.

His case is drawing attention to the criminal justice system in Japan, where there is no presumption of innocence and the accused can be held for months before trial.

The system, sometimes called “hostage justice,” has come under fire from human rights advocates.

When a court on Thursday last week denied Tokyo prosecutors’ request to detain Ghosn another 10 days, it was so unusual that the Japanese media reported that he might be released.

However, such speculation was dashed when prosecutors rearrested him a day later on suspicion of breach of trust, tagging on a new set of allegations centered on his shifting personal investment losses of about ¥1.8 billion (US$16.22 million) to Nissan.

On Sunday, a court approved prosecutors’ request to detain him through Tuesday next week.

Ghosn’s plight is routine in Japan. People have signed confessions, even to killings they never committed, to get out of the ordeal.

A trial could be months away and could last even longer, and Ghosn’s chances are not good: The conviction rate in Japan is 99 percent.

Those close to Ghosn and his family have said that he is asserting his innocence, but it is unclear when or if release could come for Ghosn, who led a two-decade turnaround at Nissan from near-bankruptcy.

Tokyo prosecutors consider Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, a flight risk.

Other nations might have legal systems that are criticized as brutal and unfair. The US, for instance, has its share of erroneous convictions, police brutality and dubious plea bargains.

However, in the US, a person is presumed innocent, has the right to have an attorney present and gets freed within 72 hours if there is no charge.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said that such a longtime detention is highly unusual in the US.

“Each time the government reaches a deadline where Ghosn might be released, the government files new allegations and rearrests,” he said.

Japanese Deputy Chief Prosecutor Shin Kukimoto said that prosecutors are merely doing their job of “trying to carry out a proper investigation.”

When asked by a reporter about “hostage justice,” he replied: “We are not in a position to comment on how the law has been designed.”

Under such a system, those who insist on innocence end up getting detained longer. Once the repeated arrests run out and a suspect is formally charged, bail is technically possible, but often denied until the trial starts because of fears about tampered evidence.

“It is good that the world will learn how wrong Japan’s criminal system is through the case of this famous person. It is something even many Japanese don’t know,” said Seiho Cho, a lawyer in Tokyo and an expert on criminal defense. “Countless people have gone through horrible experiences.”

A famous case is that of Iwao Hakamada, a professional boxer who served 48 years in prison, mostly on death row, after he signed a confession under questioning and was convicted of killing a family of four.

He was freed in 2014 after DNA tests determined that blood at the crime scene was not Hakamada’s and a court ruled that police had likely planted evidence.

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