Carlos Ghosn’s jail time illustrates problems with Japanese ‘hostage justice’
Unless you happen to be named “Ayn Rand,” it can be a challenge to gin up much sympathy for a multimillionaire titan of industry with homes in Tokyo, Rio, Paris (times two) and Beirut, plus 24/7 access to a private jet. Yet the Japanese government’s deplorable treatment of former Renault, Mitsubishi and Nissan honcho Carlos Ghosn should elicit sympathy in even the most hardened of Jacobin class warriors.
Mr. Ghosn was finally released on $9 million bail this week from the Tokyo jail cell he had inhabited since Nov. 19. The former high-flying executive, once lauded across the globe and especially in Japan for saving Nissan from bankruptcy two decades ago, has been charged by Japanese authorities with understating his income for years to avoid taxes and with transferring his personal losses to Nissan’s books. He denies the charges, saying they’re part of an orchestrated campaign within Nissan to bring him down.
But whether he is guilty or not, Mr. Ghosn’s treatment following his arrest has been by all accounts miserable. Writing in the Financial Times, Philippe Ries (who once co-wrote a book with Mr. Ghosn) described “harsh conditions (a poorly heated cell with the light constantly on, except when it is constantly off, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.), with no right to even a single family visit, a drastic diet, and no access to needed medication.”
Judging by the size of the average Tokyo hotel room, or even apartment, one can assume Mr. Ghosn’s cell was minuscule as well. Mr. Ghosn also faced “interrogations that last up to eight hours a day, seven days a week, where the same questions [were] asked dozens of times,” Mr. Ries added.
Despite presenting no flight risk he volunteered to surrender his passport and even tolerate the installation of surveillance cameras in his home or danger to the public he has no history of violence it was only this week, after more than 100 days, that Mr. Ghosn was granted bail. That’s because Japan, which convicts 99.9 percent of the people it charges with crimes, practices a form of “hostage justice.”
The scam goes like this: Japanese judges almost always refuse to grant bail to people charged with crimes. The “ransom” they charge is a confession: Say you did it, and we’ll let you out. It’s an effective system, in its way, with nearly nine in 10 Japanese defendants confessing in 2017.
There are two obvious problems with ransom justice. The first is the perverse incentive it creates in the event that an innocent person is charged with a crime. Given the alternative is a hellish imprisonment in cruel conditions, it’s easy to see how hostage justice could easily coerce an innocent defendant into offering a false confession.
But even if the defendant did what they’re charged with, hostage justice is problematic. That’s because it implies falsely that because a person confesses to doing something, he or she should be dealt with more leniently, that perhaps they feel remorse. This is an odd standard.
That becomes clear when we look at cases closer to home. The United States, after all, practices its own form of “hostage justice” when it reduces sentences for criminals who confess their deeds.
Recall the 2011 case of Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, man who gunned down six people, including a 9-year-old girl, and nearly killed then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside of a supermarket. There was never any doubt Mr. Lougher did it. There were multiple eyewitness, and he was caught at the scene brandishing the murder weapon. But he was able to escape the death penalty simply because he pleaded guilty. The logic seems to be that saying “I did it” about something everybody knows he did somehow makes the crime less bad or the criminal more worthy of mercy. That’s an odd moral standard.
It’s almost as odd, perhaps, as subjecting someone to a miserable imprisonment and demanding they admit they did something, whether they did or not, and calling it “justice.”
Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.