Whatever the truth, Carlos Ghosn appears to have been imprisoned in his own home

The escape of Carlos Ghosn, the former chief executive of Nissan, exposes the Japanese justice system to unwelcome scrutiny.

His defence team in Japan went public to say that they felt “betrayed” and “dumbfounded”. It is quite remarkable for a defence lawyer to make negative statements about a client — it may be a cultural difference in Japanese legal proceedings but it seems more likely that his lawyers were fearful of reprisals from the state.

Mr Ghosn, 65, claims that he escaped political persecution in Japan that stems from, he alleges, an unfair justice system. The links between Nissan and the Japanese government are close and the suggestion of a merger with Renault was not well received.

Mr Ghosn was on bail but he appears to have been essentially imprisoned in his own home. The conditions placed on him were draconian and oppressive.

His lawyers have asked the UN’s group on arbitrary detention to analyse the case, alleging that his bail was detention in all but name and designed to pressure him into a confession, in breach of human rights.

For instance, Mr Ghosn was not allowed internet access through his mobile phone and his wife has claimed that she was treated like a terrorist. Another concern was the use of 20 officers to re-arrest him at his home as he threatened to talk to the press. The actions of the Japanese prosecutors have all the hallmarks of charges brought in a state where the rule of law does not fully function.

The Japanese system has a conviction rate of 99 per cent, a statistic that in and of itself is worrying. The explanation is that most people confess rather than face trial and when the conditions of detention and pressuring of defendants are taken into account one can well see why that might be good for the prosecutors. But it cannot be good for justice.

Lebanon, where Mr Ghosn has landed, has no extradition treaty with Japan. But that is not necessarily the end of the matter. Extradition is not impossible without a treaty. However, Lebanon does not extradite its nationals and so for now Mr Ghosn is safe.

Japan also issued an Interpol red notice, arguably more in hope than expectation, which may bite if Mr Ghosn travels to a country with an extradition treaty with Japan. If he can present Interpol with evidence to back up his claims that the prosecution is political then the notice may be removed.

It will be difficult to fight the Japanese system from Lebanon but whatever the truth in the charges against him, this case has opened Japan’s legal system to detailed scrutiny by the international community.

This article was originally published by the Times on 9 January 2020 and can be viewed on The Times website here.

Ben Keith is a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill specialising in international human rights, extradition, immigration, serious fraud and public law. Ben is ranked in Chambers and Partners and the Legal 500 for his extradition and international law work.