Austere Japan detention quarters contrast starkly with Carlos Ghosn's globe-trotting lifestyle

by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Mari Saito


Prosecutors have confirmed that Nissan’s arrested chairman, Carlos Ghosn, is being held in the spartan Tokyo Detention House in Katsushika Ward — its many rules and restrictions making for a stark contrast with his comfortable, globe-trotting lifestyle.

Ghosn is most probably being held in a small 4.8-square-meter room with a toilet at one end, experts familiar with the facility have said. Many of its rooms have traditional straw tatami mats and a futon to sleep on. Other rooms are Western-style with beds, according to a Reuters reporter who has visited the facility. Detainees are allowed to shower on set days, although not every day, said Hideto Ninomiya, a criminal defense lawyer who last visited three months ago.

Rooms lack heaters, for fear of detainees hurting themselves, and have no televisions or radios, he said. Suspects also do not have access to laptops or cell phones.

“It doesn’t need to be comfortable because it’s not a hotel,” said Yasuyuki Deguchi, a professor at Tokyo Future University. “But it’s neat, hygienic and tidy.”

Belts and neckties, as well as long-legged underwear, are prohibited, so as to foil suicide attempts, said Tsutomu Nakamura, a former prosecutor in Tokyo.

The facility “is pretty cold at this time of year,” internet entrepreneur and convicted fraudster Takafumi Horie told his followers on social network Twitter.

Ghosn was arrested on Nov. 19 and has not yet been formally charged. Japanese law permits the detention of suspects for up to 23 days before they are charged.

Motonari Otsuru, a former public prosecutor, has been hired as Ghosn’s lawyer, according to local media reports.

Nissan Motor Co., where Ghosn served as chief executive until 2017, accuses him of using company money for personal purposes and conspiring with board member Greg Kelly, who was also arrested, to under-report Ghosn’s income over five years from 2010.

The detention center, a tower-like structure in eastern Tokyo, is where the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways, was executed by hanging this year. Nakamura dismissed rumors that Ghosn was being held in a special VIP room, adding, “Everyone is treated in the same way — even a prime minister.”

The food on offer tends to be bento-type meals with little variety, Ninomiya added. Detainees are not allowed to sleep during the day, said the Reuters reporter who visited.

Detainees can have money deposited in their accounts to buy additional food and toiletries from the commissary. Family members can also send food items, books, magazines and clothing.

The facility accommodates many foreign detainees and is equipped to cope with different languages, Deguchi said.

“Being a foreigner does not mean you are at a disadvantage there,” he said. “People working there are used to foreign detainees.”

Visits by family and friends are limited to 15 minutes once a day. It was not immediately clear how much time detainees are allowed to spend meeting with lawyers.

When visiting detained clients, Ninomiya meets them in a room and speaks to them through a glass window. Some wear their own clothes and others wear the gray sweatshirts and sweatpants supplied by the facility, he said. “They’re usually in shock, and say it’s particularly hard to be (held) in a private room because they can’t talk to anyone,” Ninomiya said.

The experience is particularly hard “for elites caught up in financial crimes,” he added. “They can’t stand it and it makes them want to confess.”

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