Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn rides in a car from a building Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Tokyo. Ghosn, the star auto executive credited with rescuing both Renault and Nissan, left a drab Tokyo detention center Wednesday after more than three months in custody, his identity obscured by a surgical mask, hat and construction worker's outfit.(Takuya Inaba/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan stunned by Ghosn's release, critics hope for change

March 07, 2019 - 3:09 am

TOKYO (AP) — Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn's release from detention nearly four months after his arrest has gripped Japan, giving the public a rare glimpse into how the criminal justice system works.

Ghosn was recuperating Thursday, his lawyer said, after leaving the Tokyo Detention Center the evening before, just in time for his 65th birthday on Saturday. His trial on charges of financial misconduct is sure to draw attention as one of the biggest court cases in the history of corporate Japan.

Japan's relatively low crime rate means high profile cases like Ghosn's are uncommon. His trial, which could start later this year, is sure to draw attention as one of the biggest court cases in the history of corporate Japan.

The front pages of all major newspapers carried photos of Ghosn, his identity obscured by a surgical mask, blue cap and laborer's clothes on Thursday.

Broadcasters showed stacks of Japanese currency about the size of a small bed to demonstrate what his bail of 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) would have looked like. The payment was made electronically but the full amount was required, unlike bail systems like the U.S. where a portion is offered as surety and the full amount is forfeited only if the defendant fails to appear.

While Westerners were wondering at how the idea of "presumed innocent" doesn't seem to apply in Japan, many here were shocked his release came so soon.

"An exceptional case of quick release," said a headline in the newspaper Yomiuri.

Suspects in Japan are usually not released from detention until all documents from both sides are readied for a trial because prosecutors worry that suspects might tamper with evidence or flee. The court rejected two earlier requests by Ghosn for bail.

Theoretically, suspects in Japan are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But the complexity of a case can determine the length of pretrial detention. And long detentions mean suspects practically serve time before they are found guilty.

Seiho Cho, a defense lawyer, says his clients wonder why they aren't getting released as quickly as Ghosn was. Ghosn's legal team offered special conditions, such as a surveillance camera, to win his release.

Bail should be granted without such stringent restrictions, Cho said.

"What we have now is totally wrong," he said. "We hope this will have a positive effect on future cases."

Ghosn, who headed the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance, has been charged with falsifying financial reports in under-reporting his income and breach of trust in having Nissan shoulder investment losses and make payments to a Saudi businessman. He says he is innocent, that the income allegedly under-reported was never paid or decided; Nissan never suffered the investment losses and the payments were legitimate business expenses.

A French lawyer for Ghosn, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, blamed his client's troubles on a "plot against him" over opposition within Nissan to his effort to draw the Japanese automaker closer to Renault — with a strong French boss.

He said in an interview on Wednesday that Ghosn fell into "a kind of trap." Le Borgne said he was concerned whether the defense will get full access to all documents to be presented as evidence.

The business daily Nikkei said Ghosn's case highlights inequities human-rights advocates have long criticized as unfair, such as extended detentions and interrogations without a lawyer present. "Japanese-style justice shaken," the headline said.

There have been several cases where suspects signed false confessions after harsh questioning during months-long detentions, but were later exonerated by DNA tests or other evidence.

Lawyer Yuichi Kaido welcomed the international scrutiny due to Ghosn's case.

"I realize there is the view that we can't give special treatment to Mr. Ghosn or that Japan has its own way of doing things," he said, but "The case of Carlos Ghosn has highlighted how outdated this system is."

Ghosn has hired a star defense lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka. Nicknamed "the Razor," he has won rare acquittals in a nation where the conviction rate is 99 percent.

Hironaka said the lawyer most responsible for securing Ghosn's release was Takashi Takano, who has studied at Southern Methodist University's law school in Dallas.

"We hope this can serve as a way to end the 'hostage justice system,'" Hironaka told reporters Thursday, using the term often used by critics to refer to long detentions typical in Japan.

"The world is watching."

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AP journalists Jeff Schaeffer in Paris and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

On Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/yurikageyama/?hl=en

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