The writer is the former chief executive of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance
Japanese officials, including justice minister Masako Mori, contend that their judicial system is set up to ensure the sound functioning of corporate life, and safeguard the human rights of suspects and the accused.
My own experience since my arrest in November 2018 shows that this is not true. I was brutally ripped from my family, friends and the companies I ran — Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi — and held in detention while prosecutors pressured me to confess to a series of false allegations that were designed to force me out of my position and reduce Renault’s influence on Nissan.
After being held for months in solitary confinement, allowed just 30 minutes a day outside, I was released on bail but barred from contacting my wife. I was sure I would never get a fair trial and feared I would die in Japan. So last month, I left the country.
Now Ms Mori and other Japanese officials are putting out disinformation at my expense — a pattern of behaviour that has been consistent from the beginning of this case. On Monday, she asserted that the charges against me included alleged understatement of “cash remuneration” and transfers from the bank account of a Nissan subsidiary to one that “in effect belonged to Mr Ghosn himself”. In fact, the accusations are about alleged under-reporting of future and unpaid remuneration that was never fixed and the transfers made to Suhail Bahwan Automobiles were legitimate incentive payments that had been approved by several senior Nissan executives. No money was ever rechanneled to me directly or indirectly.
The primary interest of the Japanese justice system in my case is said to be the protection of shareholders and investors. This claim seems to ignore the fact that, aside from myself and Nissan employees, shareholders have been the most adversely affected by this affair.
As a result of the chaos and misguided power struggles that followed my incarceration, the Nissan share price has fallen by more than 30 per cent so far, while the MSCI world auto index is up 7 per cent. The company’s market value dropped by $10bn, profits dropped by 95 per cent and 12,500 job cuts have been announced. My successor as Nissan chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, has publicly admitted receiving excess remuneration payments. Yet he remains on the Nissan board. Yet I was treated differently.
This is a double standard that I believe is rooted in naked bias. It suggests that the Japanese definition of “the sound functioning of corporate life” is determined by non-shareholder government officials with half-baked nationalist agendas, without considering the views of boards and shareholders.
In my experience, the Japanese judicial process began with prosecutors asserting guilt and seeking punishment. I was denied human contact for long periods, questioned for up to eight hours a day and given limited access to translators. I was left with only an extremely narrow prospect of asserting innocence — in Japan, once suspects have been indicted, as I was, more than 99 per cent of them are convicted.
Ms Mori herself encouraged me to “prove my innocence” in a court of law. This entirely ignores the presumption of innocence and burden of proving guilt that are fundamental to any fair and modern judicial system. By publicly expressing a view that the charges against me are valid, she is commenting on an individual case. I believe that is a violation of judicial independence, a fundamental tenet of the rule of law.
A full 14 months after my arrest no trial date had been set. And the Japanese justice system does not require prosecutors to turn over to the defence the evidence they intend to present in court. Instead, the courts have allowed prosecutors to hand evidence back to Nissan that might have been useful to me. My lawyers believe that this is equivalent to granting the investigative agencies permission to destroy evidence.
Defenders of the Japanese system, including Ms Mori, say that the judges evaluate cases with “great care”. But I was told when I was being detained that judges rarely, if ever, read the defence’s arguments asking for a defendant to be released on bail while awaiting trial. Under Japan’s “hostage justice system”, bail requests are almost never granted. From my experience, that is not due to the skill of the prosecutors.
Ignoring problems is rarely a reliable path to resolving them. My criticisms of the Japanese judicial system are not novel. My case has merely highlighted human rights violations that have been decried by members of a UN committee against torture in 2013, Human Rights Watch, and in a letter signed by more than 1,000 Japanese legal professionals.
I have respect for Japanese people and culture. In my opinion, the country deserves better from its leaders, including Ms Mori and those responsible for the damage to Nissan and its alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi.