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Within days of Carlos Ghosn’s arrest for understating his compensation in Nissan’s regulatory filings came the predictable questions about what this meant about Japanese corporate governance. My answer would be not very much, except that perhaps those who look to Japan as a model of “stakeholder capitalism” might need to think more about the role of government as a stakeholder. In any case, Nissan’s complex alliance and shareholding relationships with Mitsubishi Motors and Renault (and thereby extension, the French government) mean it is an unlikely source of useful lessons on how other corporations should be run.

No, the real significance of his arrest will likely prove to be in subjecting Japan’s criminal justice system to intense global scrutiny. You can’t use a reporting violation as a pretext for detaining a famous Brazilian-Lebanese-French business leader associated with multiple global automotive brands in an unheated cell for weeks with limited access to lawyers and almost no contact with family members before formally charging him with a crime without generating some negative press. In a Nov. 22 article on news analysis site Agora, former economy ministry bureaucrat and university professor Kazuo Yawata wondered whether Ghosn’s arrest and removal might be a sign of the “suicide of Japan’s judicial system.”

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