Business / Corporate

Carlos Ghosn case could spur Japan justice reform, Suntory CEO says

by Lisa Du and Craig Trudell

Bloomberg

The arrest and lengthy detention of former auto titan Carlos Ghosn has drawn the eyes of the world to Tokyo and may finally bring reform to the nation’s criminal justice system, according to Takeshi Niinami, chief executive officer of Suntory Holdings Ltd.

“In the history of the judicial system of Japan, even the prime minister could not challenge it,” Niinami said in an interview Thursday in New York. “The judicial system of Japan has to be reviewed. Now is the right timing.”

The arrest of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA’s former chairman in November on allegations of filing false financial statements to regulators, and later on breach-of-trust charges, has put a spotlight on the country’s justice system. Human rights groups and heads of governments have openly criticized Ghosn’s 100-plus days in detention and failed attempts at bail. He was granted bail on his third attempt and left detention Wednesday.

Niinami has weighed in on the Ghosn affair before, saying in January that it put a spotlight on weak corporate governance in the country. He said Thursday a company’s board needs to function well so “that kind of incident should not happen.”

Niinami, who has been running the beverage giant since 2014, is also a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. He said the Justice Ministry is too strict and is unchallenged, which is “a huge issue.” But he added the publicity around the case could kick-start a conversation among politicians about the country’s justice system.

“Because of this case, the Cabinet can talk about it, can start to discuss to change how to detain, for how long,” he said. “And if the court doesn’t allow bail, in that case, the court has to say why.”

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