BEIRUT – Justice Minister Masako Mori vowed Monday to pursue the criminal prosecution of fugitive and former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, calling his escape while on bail a crime.
“It is clear that we don’t have any records of the defendant departing Japan, hence we believe that he left Japan illegally,” Mori told a news conference Monday morning at her office in Tokyo.
Mori vowed to introduce tighter immigration checks to prevent a repeat incident, and said that, on her orders, screenings and departure procedures have already been strengthened so as not to allow any of the security lapses that led to Ghosn’s escape to continue. She also announced plans to review the loopholes that allowed Ghosn to flee the country.
“The government is currently working toward revising the existing (criminal) law and we will swiftly take into consideration measures to address the problem of absconding,” including measures such as electronic tagging in order to know the whereabouts of the accused, Mori said.
The 65-year-old former chief of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, who is accused of underreporting his pay for years and misappropriating Nissan funds, had been out on bail since April following an appeal by his lawyers. Until his release, he was held in detention for several months and was awaiting trial. Ghosn, who denies any misconduct, was freed on a number of conditions — one of which was a ban on foreign travel.
On Dec. 31, Ghosn issued a statement saying: “I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.”
His high-profile arrest at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in November 2018, and his detention for over four months under severe conditions including lengthy questioning without a lawyer, led to mounting international criticism, with the conditions being called draconian in comparison with those in the West. In his statement, Ghosn said, “I have not fled justice — I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”
During Monday’s news conference, which was the first by a government official on Ghosn’s departure, Mori rebuked criticism against the nation’s justice system, saying that it “sets out appropriate procedures to clarify the truth of cases and is administered appropriately.” Mori insisted that basic individual human rights were guaranteed.
“But the criminal justice system and the escape of the accused are two separate things, and the fact that (Ghosn) left Japan without going through the embarkation procedures means that he smuggled himself out of Japan,” Mori noted, adding that “such an act constitutes a criminal offense.”
“The escape of an accused individual during bail cannot be justified for any reason.”
Her remarks echoed those of Takahiro Saito, deputy chief at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, who in a statement released Sunday said that Ghosn’s “ignorance of our country’s legal procedures and his action could amount to a crime.”
The senior prosecutor added that “the escape is an act of merely trying to flee from punishment for his crime.”
Saito said that the reason prosecutors had sought Ghosn’s detention was that there was a risk of him destroying evidence, as he had abundant funds and many overseas bases that would make it easier for him to escape, given his significant influence in and outside Japan.
Mori on Monday confirmed that Ghosn’s bail had been canceled and that Interpol had issued a nonbinding Red Notice on Japan’s behalf, which typically instructs authorities to detain a wanted person.
She said that Japan’s immigration authorities have been working with related agencies in Japan and abroad in an effort to arrest Ghosn so that he can be tried under Japan’s criminal jurisdiction.
Mori declined to comment further on Ghosn’s escape, citing the ongoing investigation, as the circumstances of Ghosn’s flight from Japan — where he was supposed to be under strict house arrest — remain unclear.
Video footage captured at Ghosn’s home shows him departing alone on Dec. 29. Citing people familiar with the investigation, Nippon Television Network Corporation said additional footage from a surveillance camera at Shinagawa Station shows that he met up with several people before they all boarded a shinkansen to Osaka. According to a report by the Yomiuri newspaper, a private jet onto which a musical instrument case believed to have been used in his escape had been loaded took off from Kansai International Airport at 11:10 p.m.
It is believed that Ghosn arrived in Beirut on Dec. 30 after transiting in Turkey.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Ghosn had been packed into a massive black case used for transporting concert audio equipment. The case was allegedly sneaked onto a private jet at the airport in Osaka. A Turkish private jet company has admitted that one of its employees helped him escape to Lebanon.
According to national broadcaster NHK, inspectors at the airport did not carry out the required X-ray checks on the case believed to have contained Ghosn before it was loaded onto the plane because it was too big to fit into the X-ray machine.
Meanwhile, Ghosn has announced through a spokesman that he will give a news conference in Beirut at 3 p.m. local time (10 p.m. JST) on Wednesday.
Authorities in Lebanon have said that Ghosn, who holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationality, entered the country legally while in possession of a French passport and a Lebanese identification card.
Ghosn’s passports had been kept at his lawyers’ office in Tokyo as part of his bail conditions. But it has emerged that he had a second French passport in his possession.
Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan.