Ghosn’s escape puts Japan’s justice system in a difficult situation

The free press conference of Carlos Ghosn has put Japan in the foreground.

After his dramatic escape from Tokyo to Beirut, the former Nissan president told a global audience that he was an “easy target” for Japan’s justice system because he was a foreigner.

The implications for Japan of the accusation are serious. Foreign executives already working in the country, and those who are scheduled to arrive after an anticipated increase in cross-border merger and acquisition agreements and private capital, will have been watching the case closely to see if the legal system is as fair as Tokyo profess

Ghosn may have had legitimate concerns about whether he would receive a fair trial for the four charges of financial misconduct he faces, and he denies it. But his escape means the opportunity to submit the case to Japanese prosecutors who say they have built against him the global scrutiny that has been lost.

Japanese officials have been defending their justice system and obtained an international request for Ghosn’s arrest through Interpol. But the world has been captivated by the eloquent fugitive and his claim that he was the victim of a political plot to block merger plans between Nissan and his French partner Renault.

Now both sides will fight to show where the truth lies.

The 65-year-old man strongly rejected the charges that he did not report his post-retirement compensation promised by Nissan, and that he used the company’s money for personal gain. But the company’s documents that were displayed on a screen at its Beirut press conference were difficult to assess, and Ghosn is still preparing to distribute them to journalists.

The former Nissan chief, who admitted that he should have retired earlier, also did not fully answer questions about alleged ethical violations during his reign of nearly 20 years at the top of the company. More than two weeks since his flight from Tokyo, and more than a year since Ghosn was arrested for the first time, the most important questions in this saga remain unanswered.

There are reasons to believe, according to documents seen by the Financial Times, that Nissan executives were in close contact with senior government officials regarding Ghosn’s merger plan with Renault. But there has been no evidence to show that Japanese government officials respond directly to Nissan’s complaints and express their support for bringing down Ghosn.

Ghosn’s press conference did not shed any new light on this issue, since, to avoid further diplomatic tension between Lebanon and Japan, he refused to appoint officials who, he believes, were involved in the plot against him. The government denies any involvement in the fall of Ghosn, as do current and former Nissan executives.

The Japanese government is in a dilemma. He has put all his effort into defending a judicial system with a conviction rate of more than 99 percent, a figure that officials say reflects the fact that only the most windable cases go to trial. But the more he does, the greater the risk that allows Mr. Ghosn to set the agenda.

In the days after the Ghosn press conference, the response of the Japanese government has also been struck by a terrible mistake by Masako Mori, the justice minister, who said the former car supreme should “test” instead of ” affirm “your innocence. That gave ammunition to those who accuse Japan of not respecting the principle of presumption of innocence.

Will foreigners follow Mr. Ghosn’s advice and leave Japan? Not necessarily. Some people begin to believe that their anger against the justice system and the alleged conspiracy have been transformed into a broader anti-Japan message.

But the country must do a better job speeding up recent reforms to a judicial system that had been criticized by its own citizens and lawyers long before Ghosn’s 130 days in prison.

The reforms, for example, include requirements for police and prosecutors to videotape their interrogations, while the Tokyo District Court has begun to grant more bail bonds.

While Mr. Ghosn decided to flee from Japan after learning that his trial could last for years, the pretrial hearings he attended were part of the procedures to reduce the scope of the charges in order to expedite the proceedings of the judgment.

Japan’s reaction to Ghosn’s shameful escape should not simply be to reverse this tendency by tightening his position on the granting of bail.

Mr. Ghosn’s advice to foreigners may be to “leave” Japan. But the country can stop this by showing companies that it can improve with its legal system.

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