Asia Business Channel

Carlos Ghosn recovering from coercive detention while lawyers work on his defense

Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn spent his first day out of a Tokyo detention center, beginning an emotional, psychological and physical recovery from more than 100-days of coercive detention by Tokyo prosecutors.

Junichiro Hironaka, Ghosn’s lawyer talked to domestic and international press who were camped outside his office and said of Ghosn: “Of course he is tired. He was taken into custody unexpectedly at the airport and put in that place (the Tokyo detention center) for more than 100 days. Wouldn't he be tired after all that?"

Hironaka vowed on Thursday to mount a "thorough" defense to restore his client's reputation, but kept tight-lipped on details about Ghosn, who was freed Wednesday afternoon.

The automotive industry and international businesses operating in Japan were shocked by the November 19th arrest of Ghosn, when Japanese prosecutors stormed into his corporate jet. He was later slapped with multiple charges of financial misconduct and has been kept in recurring detention since that date.

Ghosn, among the world's most prominent auto executives whose dramatic rescue of Nissan two decades ago made him a celebrity in the industry and in Japan, left the Tokyo Detention Center where he had been detained for 108 days in a small cell with no heating.

Ghosn, also the former chairman of Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, has agreed to strict bail conditions and given assurances he will remain in Tokyo, surrender his passport to his lawyer and submit to extensive electronic surveillance. He has agreed to set up cameras at the entrances and exits to his residence, is prohibited from using the internet or sending and receiving text messages; is banned from communicating with parties involved in his case; and permitted computer access only at his lawyer's office.

Ghosn faces charges of aggravated breach of trust and under-reporting his salary by about $82 million at Nissan for nearly a decade. If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

Ghosn said in a statement on Tuesday that, "I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations." The finance minister of France welcomed Ghosn's release, saying the executive would now be able to defend himself "with greater ease". Ghosn holds a French citizenship.

In keeping with conditions for his $8.9 million USD (1 billion JYN) bail, Ghosn has promised to live at a residence with surveillance cameras, to stay in Japan, and to use only designated computers with no Internet access. Ghosn's release on bail should help the lawyers prepare better for his trial, Hironaka said.

Japan's coercive detentions and judicial tradition have come under international scrutiny since Ghosn’s arrest and have focused on the coercive detention system that allows authorities to keep suspects in custody indefinitely to encourage confessions and allows prosecutors to “interview” suspects for 8 ~ 10 hours per day, without their lawyers being present. Ghosn was kept in a small, unheated jail cell and slept on a tatami mat for 108 days, but other people have been kept in similar detention for more than 450 days.

Japanese prosecutors proudly point to the fact that they have a 98% conviction rate that is based upon defendants signing “confessions” while they are held in indefinite detention, but many people who have been prosecuted under this system claimed that they only signed confessions so that they could be released from detention and actually have trials take place.

The Ghosn case has focused attention on Japan’s coercive legal system and international human rights have protested the system and called upon Japan to modernize its legal system to the international standard that people are innocent until proven guilty and that those accused of crimes should have access to legal counsel that represents them and are present during interrogation sessions.

Hironaka said, "I think it's good that the court granted bail even with various conditions attached. It's unfair to detain the accused over a long period of time before trial in this so-called 'hostage justice’ system. I hope the 'hostage justice' will be a thing of the past. From now on, I hope we'll be able to conduct more elaborate, more thorough preparations for the trial.”

Hironaka said that Ghosn's defense team was considering an opportunity for him to speak with the press in the near future. But the event must be designed in such a way that it would not affect the trial and not allow prosecutors to argue that Ghosn was using the media to send hidden messages to his associates to conceal evidence. "We are criminal-trial lawyers. We only think about how we can win a not-guilty verdict," he said.

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