Legal Limbo: Ex-Nissan CEO trapped in Lebanon

May 7, 2022

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

Ex-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is looking to meet charges of financial wrongdoing head-on after France issued an international warrant for his arrest.

What does this mean?

Carlos Ghosn, former boss of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, one of the biggest car-making groups in the world, has been stuck in Lebanon since fleeing Japan in 2019. He was arrested in late 2018 on allegations of financial misconduct, including the misuse of company funds, which he denies on all counts. He then spent over a year in custody and house arrest in Japan before embarking on a movie-esque escape, which included disguising himself on the streets of Tokyo and hiding in a music equipment box loaded onto a private jet.

Now, four years after his initial arrest in Japan, France has issued an international arrest warrant in his name. Having asserted that the charges levelled against him were baseless from the start, Ghosn is prepared to stand trial in France to clear his name, an outcome both he and his lawyers appear to be confident in. However, his absconding from Japan has created other barriers to his freedom; Lebanon, where he has spent the past three years, does not have an extradition agreement with Japan. However, he also cannot leave the country, owing to an Interpol Red Notice issued against him by Japan.

What's the big picture effect?

Ghosn’s extreme actions in fleeing Japan are a reflection on its criminal justice system’s reputation. Commonly known as “Hitojichi shihĹŤ” or “hostage justice“, it’s a far cry from the system of most other democratic countries. Behind Japan’s extremely low crime rates lie the oppressive powers granted to Japanese law enforcement authorities and public prosecutors.

Prolonged detention prior to charging of the accused is the norm rather than an exception in Japan. Under the Japanese Code of Criminal Procedure, authorities are allowed 23 days of detention before charges must be brought against suspects – but there’s a catch: the period of detention may be indeterminate in practice. The 23-day detention period may be repeatedly extended by filing more charges against the accused.

While Ghosn was held for a total of 128 days, he is far from the longest detained individual within the Japanese system. For instance, Hiroji Yamashiro, a protest leader against the construction of a new US military base in Okinawa, was held for 153 days, more than five months, before being formally charged; or the couple at the centre of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, who were held without charge for 299 days.

During detention, suspects are commonly interrogated without the presence of a lawyer for up to eight hours a day. All this has culminated in Japan having a nigh-unbelievable 99.4% conviction rate. For perspective, the conviction rate in England and Wales was 82.3% in magistrates courts and 79.1% in crown courts as of the third quarter of 2021.

Ghosn is currently trapped in legal limbo. While he cannot be extradited to France from Beirut to stand trial, he also cannot leave Lebanon to stand trial in France lest he be extradited to Japan, where he would be all but guaranteed to be convicted. As under French law, an investigation cannot be closed unless the person under investigation is in French territory, Ghosn may be out of options until the situation changes.

Report written by Calvin Tan

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