Carlos Ghosn better get comfortable in his austere, 52-square-foot cell. Because he’s going to be staying there for at least another two weeks. That’s because – as was expected – Tokyo prosecutors have been granted permission by a local court to hold Ghosn for an additional ten days past, meaning that he can now be held for up to three weeks before being formally charged (or before prosecutors announced their intention to bring charges), according to the Wall Street Journal.
But if their hope is to convince the Japanese public that Ghosn is guilty of abusing his power as Nissan’s chairman, they are going to need to publish more concrete evidence of wrong doing – and do it quickly. Because as one former prosecutor told the Washington Post, the prosecutors’ case is beginning to look “haphazard”. Meanwhile, suspicions that Ghosn’s detention – which led to his ouster from Nissan and Mitsubishi – was the result of internal politics and resentments against his leadership at Nissan have continued to fester.
Ghosn and former Nissan representative director Greg Kelly were arrested Nov. 19 on suspicion of conspiring to underreport Ghosn’s income in reports to the Tokyo Stock Exchabge. The alleged underreporting is said to have taken place over five fiscal years ending in March 2015. Prosecutors have said Ghosn’s suspected underreporting amounted to ¥10 billion ($88 million) over those five years, about twice the amount stated in the reports.
Both Ghosn and Kelly have denied wrongdoing, with the latter claiming that deferred retirement payments that have been cited by prosecutors as an example of the underreporting were never formally implemented, and thus there was nothing to report.
Prosecutors’ lengthy interrogations of both Ghosn and Kelly have been criticized by the outside world, given that, in accordance with the rules of the Japanese legal system (which has an overwhelming conviction rate), neither man is in the company of a lawyer. And while the investigation into the wrongdoing is ongoing, one Japanese legal commentator said charges are almost guaranteed, given the high-profile nature of the case.
Nobuo Gohara, a lawyer and former prosecutor, says almost everyone in Japan who is arrested is treated as if they are guilty, including by the media. And conviction rates are so high, he added, that most people plead guilty once they have been indicted.
“In Japan, prosecutors are extremely powerful; such is the relationship between the court and the public prosecutors,” he told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan this week.
“In cases such as this one, in cases where prosecutors themselves are involved in investigating, they almost always indict suspects,” he said. “The point of no return has been reached as far as the prosecutors are concerned. That leads to media coverage which seems to assume a suspect being guilty.”
In addition to underreporting his income, Japanese media have reported that Ghosn is suspected of improperly using company funds to buy six luxury properties, which he and his family used for personal purposes, misusing resources like the corporate jet for personal vacations, securing a no-show job for his sister and shifting personal trading losses on to Nissan.