National / Crime & Legal

Justice Minister Masako Mori backtracks on comment suggesting Carlos Ghosn should prove innocence

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Justice Minister Masako Mori has backtracked on an inflammatory comment in which she said fugitive ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn should come to Japan to “prove his innocence.”

Some took the comment as a gaffe proving the businessman’s claim that under the Japanese justice system, he is guilty until proven innocent.

In a Thursday afternoon tweet, Mori apologized for saying Ghosn should “prove his innocence” during her media address and said that she meant he should “assert” it instead. The tweet, which went viral, increased the growing international debate over the true nature of the Japanese system, which critics have dubbed “hostage justice.”

On Thursday morning, Mori held two news conferences just hours apart to attack Ghosn for fleeing and to rebuke the 65-year-old businessman for his attack on Japan’s legal system. Soon after midnight, Mori said: “If the defendant wants to clear his name, he should prove his innocence within Japanese criminal justice proceedings.”

Later in the day, however, she posted a tweet saying she had made a slip of the tongue.

“My comment in the statement distributed to reporters contained the phrase ‘(the defendant) should “assert” (his innocence) within the Japanese criminal justice proceedings,’ but my tongue slipped.”

Reports in the Josei Jishin magazine and other media, however, also said that Mori wrote the same phrase on Twitter soon after her news conference ended, at around 1:30 in the morning, but later deleted the tweet. After 5 am. she reposted a corrected version of her comment in which she replaced the word in question with “assertion” along with video footage cut out from her news conference that contained a different message, presumably to mask the gaffe.

The Japan Times could not independently verify the validity of the apparently deleted tweet and the ministry refrained from commenting on the content uploaded to Mori’s personal Twitter account. When The Japan Times reached her office, there was no one who could immediately confirm whether and why she deleted her initial tweet.One of Ghosn’s lawyers, Francois Zimeray, issued a statement Friday directed at Mori that denounced her remarks.

“Allow me to remind (Mori) that since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted here, in Paris, in 1948, the presumption of innocence, respect of dignity and rights of defense have been essential components of what constitute a fair trial,” the lawyer said.

“Japan is an admirable, modern, otherwise advanced country. It deserves better than an archaic system that holds innocent people hostage. The onus is on you to abolish it,” Zimeray added.

Mori’s reaction followed the fallen automobile executive’s chaotic 150-minute news conference held Wednesday afternoon in Beirut just days after his dramatic escape from Japan.