Where's Carlos? Ghosn to Face Japan's Legal System: QuickTake

(Bloomberg) -- Carlos Ghosn, the deposed chairman of Nissan Motor Co., finds himself in the throes of a legal system renowned for having one of the world’s highest criminal conviction rates. It’s a system with a uniquely Japanese flavor: People can be held without charge for weeks or even months and can only get bail after being indicted. But they can also be simultaneously re-arrested on new charges, allowing prosecutors more time to hold them for questioning.

1. Where is Ghosn now?

He’s been held at Tokyo’s detention house since his Nov. 19 arrest. The 12-story building, located in Katsushika in the northern part of the city, is one of eight such detention houses in Japan, according to the Ministry of Justice. On Dec. 10, Ghosn was indicted for understating his salary at Nissan during the five years until March 2015, and also was re-arrested on similar charges covering the three fiscal years through March 2018. The re-arrest means the 64-year-old won’t get a shot at bail for now. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

Where's Carlos? Ghosn to Face Japan's Legal System: QuickTake

2. Why’s he been held so long?

After an arrest, prosecutors can obtain a court order to hold someone for up to 20 days before they must announce whether they’ll indict. A re-arrest starts the detention period anew, according to David T. Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who researches the Japanese criminal justice system. The idea of being able to hold suspects for a long time is to use that time to interrogate them and attempt to secure a confession to make a trial easier, Johnson said. Bail isn’t possible until after prosecutors indict, but new charges put that prospect off again for up to 20 more days, says Tsutomu Nakamura, a former public prosecutor who is the founder of Nakamura International Criminal Defense in Tokyo.

3. What are Ghosn’s rights while he’s under arrest?

Unlike in many legal systems, Ghosn won’t necessarily have access to his lawyer during questioning, even if it goes on for weeks. The prosecutors get to decide whether to allow his attorney to sit in, Johnson says. In practice, when a suspect wants to speak to their lawyer during questioning, prosecutors will suspend the interview and let the suspect go to a different room to see their attorney, rather than allow the attorney into the interview, said Kenichi Kinukawa, an attorney in the London office of the Japanese law firm TMI Associates.

4. If they prosecute, what punishment could Ghosn face?

Japanese prosecutors rarely risk a not-guilty verdict. “They only prosecute the cases where they’re really, really confident in obtaining a conviction,” Kinukawa said. Fewer than 1 percent of cases in Japan’s district and county courts resulted in a not-guilty verdict or the defendant being released in 2017, according to prosecution data. Should Ghosn be charged under the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act -- the law he was arrested on suspicion of breaking -- it could carry a prison sentence of as much as 10 years. The alleged offense, according to the deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, is “even more serious than insider trading.”

5. What Tokyo’s detention house like?

Daily life for detainees begins at 7am, with three meals served through the day and lights out at 9pm, according to an archived and undated pamphlet from the ministry. Meals include rice, sides of meat and vegetables, and soup. The Tokyo site began operations in the early 1900s and moved to its current location in 1971. The center is normally off-limits to the public, but the grounds open every September for a festival, according to an account on the Japan Visitor website. Attendees are able to sample prison fare such as a curry and bread and buy products made by inmates. The website noted that the festival attracts such large crowds that automakers display car models there for marketing purposes. The detention house is also where Japan executes some of its prisoners on death row. In July, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult -- the group that carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro in 1995 -- was executed at the Tokyo detention house, various media reported.

The Reference Shelf

  • Ghosn and Nissan are indicted in Japan over pay scandal.
  • Fate of world’s biggest car alliance hangs on one word.
  • Bloomberg Opinion columnist Joe Nocera says Nissan and Japanese prosecutors may come out of this looking a lot worse than Ghosn.
  • Nissan CEO turns on mentor out of “despair.”
  • Nissan drama looks a lot like a palace coup, writes Bloomberg Opinion’s David Fickling.
  • An archived Ministry of Justice document shows the Tokyo detention house (the document’s no longer displayed on the MOJ website).
  • Some photos of the prison festival on the Japan Visitor website.
  • An MOJ document in Japanese about the country’s correctional facilities.

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