World

Japan hits back at Ghosn after he blasts country's legal system

Minister seeks to defend justice system, says few of fugitive's statements were backed by evidence

TOKYO Japan's Justice Minister launched a rare and forceful public takedown of executive-turned-fugitive Carlos Ghosn after he blasted the country's legal system as allowing him "zero chance" of a fair trial as he sought to justify his escape to Beirut.

After his dramatic flight to Lebanon last month, Ghosn spoke in public for the first time on Wednesday, saying he had been treated "brutally" by Tokyo prosecutors. He said they questioned him for up to eight hours a day without a lawyer present and tried to extract a confession out of him.

In an effort to undo Ghosn's attempt to sway public opinion, Justice Minister Masako Mori followed shortly with a statement and held two news conferences yesterday to defend Japan's justice system.

"I decided to do this because defendant Ghosn was looking to justify his unlawful exit from Japan by propagating a false recognition of our justice system," she said at the second news conference.

"I felt that we needed to respond immediately to broadcast a correct understanding to people around the world."

Ghosn, the former chief of Nissan Motor and Renault, fled Japan as he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies.

Ms Mori said Ghosn's escape from his trial in itself "could constitute a crime" that would not be tolerated in any country.

"My impression in listening to him was there were few statements that were backed by any real evidence. If he wants to prove his innocence, he should face fair trial proceedings here," she said, stressing the allegations against him concerned financial crimes in Japan.

"That would be the mark of a first-class businessperson and good citizen."

VIOLATE

Ms Mori blasted Ghosn for violating his bail by fleeing the country "without showing a passport and breaking international rules that everyone in the world follows".

"It was a breach of faith that can't be explained to our children," she said.

The spotlight on Japan's justice system comes as Ms Mori is set to host in April the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held once every five years.

Defending the jailing of Ghosn, Ms Mori said in Japan, a suspect can only be arrested with a warrant from the court upon review by a judge, unlike in some countries where detention is possible without one.

She said indictments were made in Japan when there was ample evidence towards a conviction, and criticism of Japan's 99 per cent conviction rate was therefore unwarranted.

Ms Mori repeated Japan would try to find a way to bring Ghosn back from Lebanon.

Interpol has issued an international arrest notice at Japan's request, which Ghosn said his lawyers could fight.

Ghosn said he was prepared to stand trial in any of his three home countries of Lebanon, France or Brazil, none of which have extradition agreements with Japan. - REUTERS

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