Carlos Ghosn freed from jail after four months
8 March 2019 - Autoblog
Vows to fight 'these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations'
TOKYO — Wearing a mask, cap and what looked like a construction worker's outfit, the former chairman of Nissan Motor Co., Carlos Ghosn, left a Tokyo detention center Wednesday after posting 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) bail.
Although his face was obscured as he left the facility, Ghosn's identity was apparent as he smiled after arriving at a building in downtown Tokyo, having removed his jacket, mask and hat.
There was a scramble by media to follow Ghosn after he boarded a small Suzuki van, topped with a ladder, and traveled from the Tokyo Detention Center toward downtown. Motorcycles trailed the van in formation as it passed through city streets to one of the defense lawyer's offices. Ghosn later left in another car, which was mobbed by media.
Ghosn, the former head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance was arrested on Nov. 19. He is charged with falsifying financial reports and with breach of trust.
The Tokyo District Court confirmed the 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) bail was posted earlier in the day, after a judge rejected an appeal from prosecutors requesting his continued detention. That cleared the way for Ghosn to leave the facility after spending nearly four months since his arrest.
Before his release, Ghosn, who turns 65 on Saturday, issued a statement reasserting his innocence.
"I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations," he said.
A date for his trial has not yet been set.
Suspects in Japan often are detained for months, especially those who insist on their innocence, like Ghosn. Some legal experts, including Junichiro Hironaka, one of his lawyers, have criticized the system as "hostage justice," saying the long detentions tend to encourage false confessions.
Ghosn's lawyer in France, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said the lawyers in Japan will be leading the defense but he was in touch with them.
"He is catching his breath and settling in," Le Borgne said of Ghosn.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said a presumption of innocence for Ghosn was crucial, while noting the importance to France of the alliance between Nissan and French automaker Renault SA.
"It is a good thing that Carlos Ghosn can defend himself freely and serenely, and his release will permit Carlos Ghosn to defend himself freely and serenely," he said.
The French government owns about 15 percent of Renault SA, making it an influential voice in the future of the alliance. Le Maire said the "solidity" of that future was of tremendous importance.
Hironaka said his legal team had offered new conditions for his release, such as installing a surveillance camera at his doorway and promising not to use the internet. He is allowed to make voice calls, but not to travel abroad.
Prosecutors contend that suspects may tamper with evidence and shouldn't be released. Two of Ghosn's earlier requests to be released on bail were rejected.
Some critics of Japan's legal system hope that Ghosn's release, so many weeks before preparations for his trial are ready, may set a precedent and help bring about change.
Ghosn says he did not falsify financial reports because the compensation he is alleged to have under-reported was never paid or decided upon. The breach of trust allegations center on a temporary transfer of Ghosn's investment losses to Nissan's books that he says caused no losses to the automaker. The charge also points to payments to a Saudi businessman that he says were for legitimate services.
Nissan declined comment on the criminal case against Ghosn but said an internal investigation had found unethical conduct. Nissan has dismissed Ghosn as chairman, although he remains on the board pending a decision at a shareholders' meeting.
Ghosn's family has said that he has lost weight while in detention, and he looked thinner in his court appearance. Hironaka has said he is in good spirits. Ghosn thanked his family and friends, who, he said, "stood by me throughout this terrible ordeal."
Ghosn's case shines light on Japan's harsh system of 'hostage justice'
The high-profile case of ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has shone a light in Japan on what critics call "hostage justice," in which suspects can be held for months after arrest, but any reforms will likely be incremental and slow.
Ghosn, a former titan of the global auto industry, who has French, Brazilian and Lebonese citizenship, was released on bail of 1 billion yen ($9 million) on Wednesday after being held for more than 100 days following his Nov. 19 arrest by prosecutors on suspicion of under-reporting his compensation.
In a scenario common in Japan's justice system, Ghosn was arrested two more times on fresh suspicions, including aggravated breach of trust, each time allowing prosecutors to keep him in custody and interrogate him without his lawyers being present.
The term "hostage justice" refers to holding the suspect in custody while pressing for the "ransom" of a confession.
Ghosn's case has sparked harsh international criticism of Japan's justice system, in which 99.9 percent of people charged with crimes are convicted.
"The affair was reported abroad and many Japanese know that the Japanese criminal justice system is not necessarily at a global standard," wrote former Tokyo District Court judge Takao Nakayama in the Nikkei business daily.
"In that sense, the Tokyo prosecutors opened a Pandora's box," he wrote. The article was part of a full-page spread headlined "What should be fixed in Japan's 'hostage justice'."
Granting bail after indictment and ahead of trial is rare for suspects who, like Ghosn, maintain their innocence, with the stated reason being fears the defendant would flee, tamper with evidence or seek to sway witnesses.
Ghosn had to post $8.9 million bail and agree not only to stay in Japan but to having surveillance cameras placed at his residence and to limits on his mobile phone and computer use. His first two requests for bail were rejected.
"I do think that this has made the whole system, that most Japanese on the street don't really know exists, much more visible and much more vulnerable to criticism," said Tokyo-based lawyer Stephen Givens.
Domestic civil rights groups and lawyers including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have long criticized a system they say gives too much power to prosecutors and is too reliant on confessions, some later found to have been forced and false.
Not much presumption of innocence
Ordinary citizens — and media — often equate arrest with guilt.
"Japan is a country that respects authority, and I think most people assume that when somebody is arrested, that there's a reason for that," Givens said.
"Media ... are of that view — although I do think that some of the mainstream media are beginning to ask questions and present other views."
Prosecutors have defended the system.
"Each country has its own culture and systems," said Shin Kukimoto, a deputy public prosecutor, at a news conference in December.
"I'm not sure it's right to criticize other systems simply because they are different."
High-profile cases involving forced confessions periodically attract public attention, although no outcry has been sustained.
In a possible sign the issue was creeping onto the public radar even before Ghosn's arrest, a private broadcaster launched in 2016 a television drama called "99.9 Criminal Lawyers" about defense lawyers fighting the odds against acquittal. The title refers to the conviction rate.
Still, there is caution over prospects for change.
"I'm skeptical, and it depends on what you mean by 'change'," said Colin Jones, a law professor at Kyoto's Doshisha University.
"Courts are institutionally subject to foreign pressure. The trend has been a gradual increase in the rejection of detention warrants, and we might see a trend toward incremental change," he said.