Japan’s justice minister has criticised former car tycoon Carlos Ghosn for fleeing the country, using what she said were illegal methods, as he awaited trial on multiple counts of financial misconduct, in the first official comments on the case.
Masako Mori said on Sunday there were no public records of the 65-year-old former Nissan boss – who chaired the alliance between Nissan, French carmaker Renault, and Mitsubishi – leaving Japan.
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“Our country’s criminal justice system sets out appropriate procedures to clarify the truth of cases and is administered appropriately, while guaranteeing basic individual human rights,” Mori said. “The flight by a defendant on bail is unjustifiable.”
“It is clear that we do not have records of the defendant Ghosn departing Japan. It is believed that he used some wrongful methods to illegally leave the country. It is extremely regrettable that we have come to this situation,” she added.
Ghosn jumped bail and escaped Japan for Lebanon last week. He has denied the charges against him and plans to hold a press conference in Beirut this week.
Mori said an Interpol “red notice” for the once high-flying executive had been issued.
In separate comments, Tokyo’s public prosecutor’s office deemed Ghosn’s flight a “crime” and said the tycoon had “knowingly flouted” the country’s judicial procedures.
In their first remarks since Ghosn fled the country just before the New Year, prosecutors said the escape vindicated their argument that he should have been kept in custody.
“The defendant Ghosn had abundant financial power and multiple foreign bases. It was easy for him to flee,” the statement said.
He had “significant influence” inside Japan and globally, and there was a “realistic danger” he would destroy evidence related to the case, they added.
Ghosn’s case has put an international spotlight on Japan’s justice system, which has been criticised for authorities’ ability to hold suspects almost indefinitely pending trial.
Prosecutors argued in their statement that the lengthy detention was necessary to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt and that they are reluctant to charge a suspect unless they had an iron-clad case, without which the court would not hand down a guilty verdict.
“Therefore it was necessary and unavoidable to detain the defendant Ghosn in order to continue fair and appropriate criminal proceedings,” they said.
Ghosn twice won bail by persuading the court he was not a flight risk – decisions seen as controversial at the time.
Ghosn himself appeared once in court under a little-used procedure to ask why he was still being detained.
At the time, he said he was eager to defend himself in a court trial and clear his name.
However, the prosecutors said that, by fleeing Japan, he had “violated that oath” and “refused to obey the judgement of our nation’s court”.
“He wanted to escape punishment for his own crime. There is no way to justify this act,” they added.
Ghosn said he left Japan because he was no longer willing to be “held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system”.
Amid fanciful accounts of a Houdini-like escape from Japan, he appears to have simply walked out of his house, according to security camera footage seen by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, and boarded a private jet to Beirut via Istanbul.
Japan has begun an investigation into the security lapse and prosecutors said they would “coordinate with the relevant agencies to swiftly and appropriately investigate the matter.”
Mori ordered the tightening of immigration procedures in the wake of Ghosn’s escape.