Interview: Justice Minister Denies “Hostage Justice,” Vows to Bring Ghosn to Justice
Just before the end of 2019, Japan was jolted out of its holiday mood by news that former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn had fled Japan and resurfaced in Lebanon, promising to clear his name and blasting Japan’s “hostage justice” system, in which he said he had been detained without access to legal representation or even to his own family. On January 8, Ghosn spoke to the global press, offering little explanation on his dramatic flight but blasting Japan’s justice system and displaying numerous documents that he claimed should clear him of the charges leveled against him.
How should his comments be viewed? Is he justified in his criticism? And is there a way for Ghosn to be returned to justice? To address some of these questions, the BS Fuji Television program Prime News interviewed Japan’s Minister of Justice Mori Masako and Takai Yasuyuki, a former prosecutor with the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, which had been conducting the Ghosn investigation.
What Next, Now that Ghosn Has Fled?
INTERVIEWER In a January 5 statement, Justice Minister Mori, you said Japan would pursue “all possible measures” to ensure that Carlos Ghosn would face appropriate justice procedures in Japan. Will it be possible to bring him back to face trial?
MORI MASAKO I can’t offer too many details on the criminal investigation underway. I will say, though, that we have no intention of giving up.
INTERVIEWER What investigatory system is in place to take the measures you mentioned in your statement? Is a special team in place?
MORI While I cannot discuss the content of the investigation, we will be working closely with the countries and organizations involved. Through that process we will obtain new information. I can tell you that the investigative bodies are doing their utmost in this endeavor.
TAKAI YASUYUKI While this is an individual case, its essence is the idea that the justice system in Japan is being ridiculed. So efforts must be made to regain trust in Japan’s criminal justice system. Unless a special team thoroughly engages in that effort, Japan will not be able to gain the cooperation of other countries.
MORI Whenever there is any suspicion that someone has violated the law, there is always an investigation. And we will do our utmost so that a trial can be held as a result of the investigation that remains underway. The criticism of the Japanese criminal justice is a separate issue from that.
How to Return Ghosn to Japan?
INTERVIEWER What judicial diplomacy efforts are going on now?
MORI The Ministry of Justice has recently been focusing on judicial diplomacy. In April this year, Japan will host the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. This will be an opportunity to emphasize the legitimacy of our criminal justice system and to take a variety of measures to advance our judicial diplomacy. In order to cooperate internationally on the common task of combating crime, we all need a common understanding of our respective criminal justice systems.
INTERVIEWER If you were able to invite Lebanese Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm to Japan and talk to her, it would be fascinating to hear what she might say. Without an extradition treaty in place between Lebanon and Japan, it seems unlikely for a person like Ghosn to be handed over. Is that truly the case?
MORI Generally speaking, even if there is an extradition treaty, most counties will not hand over their own citizens. We will take every possible measure based on our consideration of the legal system of the country involved and the nationality of the accused.
INTERVIEWER There is the method of “punishment by proxy,” which involves a request being made to the government of the country where a fugitive has fled to punish the person on the basis of that country’s own laws. Is this possible? I’m not sure if Lebanon would be able to charge Carlos Ghosn with a crime, but has Japan explored this?
TAKAI That’s very unlikely. Since it would involve transferring part of Japan’s sovereignty, it just isn’t possible, even as a next-best option. The only thing that Japan can aim for is for the matter concerning Ghosn to be returned here. That is non-negotiable, so no move can be made that would set that principle aside.
MORI We are not considering punishment by proxy.
A Look at Japan’s Bail Procedures
INTERVIEWER Some are saying that letting Ghosn out on bail was too lenient.
TAKAI We have to consider why he was able to secure bail. Although the court recognized he was a flight risk, his lawyer suggested unusually strict bail conditions that won the trust of the superintendent who released him. Looking back, it seems too generous, but the court could never have imagined that Ghosn would flee the country in such a disgraceful way, considering the fact he had once been such a high-level executive.
MORI Granting bail has become widely accepted. Even in the case of those accused of sexual crimes involving children have been granted bail. This raises the question of whether it is sufficient to rely on the Japanese cultural trait of trust. Because of the introduction of pretrial conference procedures, there’s now a need for accused persons to have close contact with their lawyers. This is behind the increased approval of bail release in the Japanese system.
New measures are needed to ensure that suspects do not flee or conceal evidence. The use of GPS monitors for suspects out on bail has come to be widely accepted around the world, and Japan is now considering that option as well, while weighing the opinions expressed about how this is a violation of human rights.
Ghosn’s Claims of “Inhumane” Treatment and Separation from Family
INTERVIEWER At his press conference and elsewhere, Ghosn has spoken of the pain of not being able to meet his wife even after being granted bail, citing it as one factor for his fleeing Japan. In response, the prosecution has noted that a condition for being granted bail was not to have direct spoken or written communication with his wife as one of the persons involved in the case, but that a meeting could have been allowed if he had obtained the court’s permission.
TAKAI For his first release on bail, the ban on communicating with his wife was not set as a condition. It was included for his second release, though, due to the charges of aggravated breach of trust. His wife was involved as a suspected accomplice in that crime, and there was evidence that she had coconspired with him. This was the reason for the ban on contact between the two. The ban was not placed on her as his wife per se, but rather as an accomplice. So there was nothing problematic about the ban.
Ghosn said that the inability to meet his wife was a reason for fleeing, but we still don’t know about the period when he decided to make his escape. We can’t be sure without a thorough investigation, but quite a lot of preparation, possibly including contact with her, would have been needed to organize that escape.
INTERVIEWER How about Ghosn’s claim of inhumane treatment?
MORI That claim is not true. The statements he has made suggest that everyone released on bail under the Japanese criminal justice system is prevented from meeting with family members. This is incorrect. Generally speaking, those granted bail can meet with their families, and there are also cases where that is allowed while a suspect is still being held.
INTERVIEWER Is Ghosn making these emotionally charged claims to win the international war of opinion?
MORI One gets the impression he is courting sympathy on a number of points in his criticism of the Japanese judicial system, but fleeing prosecution is a crime, and none of his criticisms justify that act.
Does Japan Have a “Hostage Justice” System?
INTERVIEWER Japan’s judicial system has been criticized as “hostage justice.” Some have pointed out that the 108 days that Ghosn spent in detention is quite long.
TAKAI If we break down those 108 days, we can see that there was detention of 23 days, the maximum allowed, before his prosecution, and additional detention periods thereafter. Moreover, he was not being questioned during that whole time. The questioning seems to have been around twice a day for 10 days, with each session lasting roughly an hour. One thing that needs to be emphasized here is that after the prosecution commenced, the questioning could not involve the facts that were to be prosecuted. The overseas media has made the criticism that he was denied bail in order to force a confession, but that is completely wrong. Whether a suspect makes a confession is unrelated to the question of whether the courts will grant bail.
MORI It is regrettable that “hostage justice” has become the buzzword in this case. In terms of the periods of detention, the maximum in Japan is 23 days, while in the United States the period from arrest to prosecution can be extended to 30 days. In France, meanwhile, which has a preliminary investigation system, the period of detention can be extended to a maximum of four years and eight months. So it can hardly be said that Japan has a longer period of detention than other countries. While Ghosn was out on bail, he was also able to freely meet with his lawyers.
TAKAI The term “hostage justice” actually arose within Japan, where it was first used, with relatively vague definitions, by some of the members of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. The overseas media then began using the term without carefully investigating its content.
MORI Japan’s legal system has seen revisions resulting in the audio recording and filming of suspect questioning. Moreover, Japan does not allow investigators to use the techniques of wiretapping and sting operations, which are used in other countries, and suspects and defenders can have unmonitored meetings with their lawyers.
I do not mean to imply that the revisions are perfect. The point is that we are humbly accepting criticism while seeking to improve our system. Defenders and victims both have rights, so we conduct investigations in pursuit of the truth while sharpening an awareness of safeguarding the rights of all parties. The result of our system has been that a country with a low crime rate. I hope that this reality will be understood and that we can continually improve our approach to justice.
(Originally aired in Japanese on BS Fuji’s Prime News on January 17, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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