Japanese prosecutors and the country’s Justice Minister have broken a week of silence since Carlos Ghosn escaped their clutches saying there was nothing that justified his actions and that his stunning flight from bail was likely made by “illegal means”.
The prosecutors’ first public statement, which was much delayed by a protracted Japanese shutdown for New Year, represents an attempt to answer the fiery condemnation of the Japanese justice system that Mr Ghosn issued shortly after his arrival in Lebanon.
Mr Ghosn justified his flight — a complex move that involved ex-US special forces and which intelligence experts believe could have cost him in excess of $20m — by saying he had not fled justice but the injustice and political persecution of a “rigged” Japanese legal system that had violated his human rights.
One of his lead Japanese lawyers, himself a veteran critic of a justice system where conviction rates are around 99 per cent, used his blog on Saturday to express sympathy for Mr Ghosn’s decision.
But in a two-page statement issued on Sunday morning, the prosecutors fiercely defended their handling of Mr Ghosn saying that his flight from bail meant that he did not want to abide by the ruling that would be made by the court and that there was “no room to justify his actions”.
“His escape strongly ignores our country’s justice system and we are deeply disappointed by this act, which likely constitutes a crime,” Takahiro Taito, the deputy chief prosecutor, said in the statement.
Prosecutors argued strongly against the court granting Mr Ghosn bail. In the statement, they stressed that they had thought the tycoon’s “ample financial wealth and global network would make it easy for him to flee”.
Mr Ghosn’s arrest in November 2018, his long period of incarceration and bail conditions that prevented him seeing his wife have put Japan’s justice system under unprecedented international scrutiny, and revived many longstanding criticisms of the way cases are built by prosecutors.
“On this case, prosecutors have strictly carried out proper procedures in line with the law and the former chairman’s rights were sufficiently guaranteed as we conducted our investigation and trial proceedings,” the prosecutors’ statement said.
In a separate statement on Sunday, Masako Mori, the justice minister, confirmed that there was no record of Mr Ghosn leaving Japan, suggesting that he had “left the country illegally using some kind of illegal means”. She added she had instructed a strengthening of departure procedures at airports.
Noting Interpol had issued a “red notice” to Lebanon asking the country to arrest Mr Ghosn, Ms Mori said Japan will take “all possible measures to ensure our criminal proceedings are properly carried out.”
The statements follow mounting criticism of the prosecutors and growing public astonishment that they were unable to keep track of arguably the highest profile foreign suspect Japan has ever handled. That criticism is expected to amplify significantly on Monday when Japan returns to work and the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe comes under pressure both to explain how Mr Ghosn slipped from the country and to craft a diplomatic response to the Lebanese government that allowed him to enter the country legally.
The former Nissan chairman, who had spent seven months awaiting trial in Tokyo under supposedly strict bail conditions, began his escape by simply walking out of his house during a weekend where Japan was beginning its long New Year shutdown. Despite what had previously been close surveillance of Mr Ghosn by the prosecutors, he does not appear to have been followed.