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UN panel rebukes Japanese prosecutors in handling Ghosn case

Criminal-justice system relies on confessions and exposes detainees to potential coercion, report says

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives to deliver a news conference in Beirut on Jan. 8.   © Reuters

Japan's detention of Carlos Ghosn for more than four months with limited access to legal counsel was arbitrary and violated the former automobile titan's human rights, a United Nations panel concluded in a rebuke of Japanese prosecutors involved in the case.

Mr. Ghosn was arrested in Japan in Nov. 2018 on suspicion of financial crimes while he was chairman of Nissan Motor Co., then rearrested three more times and held in prison under repeated questioning by prosecutors until April 2019, with a one-month break between the third and fourth arrests.

"The revolving pattern of detention was an extrajudicial abuse of process," said a report dated Nov. 20 by the U.N. Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The report, which is nonbinding, called for Japan to pay reparations to Mr. Ghosn, and called on the Japanese government to conduct an investigation of the matter and "take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of [Mr. Ghosn's] rights."

The U.N. panel also broadly criticized aspects of Japan's criminal-justice system as overly reliant on confessions and exposing detainees to potential coercion and torture.

The U.N. report isn't likely to have much immediate impact on Mr. Ghosn, who fled Japan in late December 2019, smuggled out inside a giant musical-instrument case onto a waiting private jet. Mr. Ghosn, who denies any wrongdoing, is in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.

But the report could bolster the legal case of two Americans accused of helping Mr. Ghosn escape. The pair -- an ex-Green Beret and his son, are in a Massachusetts jail, battling extradition to Japan for crimes allegedly committed during the escape.

Michael and Peter Taylor's lawyers have argued in court filings that the two Americans shouldn't be extradited because they face torture and other inhumane treatment in the Japanese justice system, pointing to Mr. Ghosn's own treatment there.

Mr. Ghosn filed a legal declaration earlier this month in the Taylors' case, describing how he had been interrogated for up to eight hours a day and slept in a tiny cell on a tatami mat with the lights on around the clock.

The U.N. group emphasized that its report "should not be construed as condoning or offering any justification" for Mr. Ghosn's sudden flight from Japan.

Japan's government, in a statement, called the U.N. report "totally unacceptable" and said its criminal justice system has appropriate procedures to "clarify the truth in criminal cases while guaranteeing the fundamental human rights" of suspects.

Mr. Ghosn was detained because a court found that he was likely to flee and destroy evidence, the Japanese government said. Mr. Ghosn "then proceeded to actually flee the criminal trial itself," the government said, arguing that the U.N. panel's report will only encourage such flight as justified.

Mr. Ghosn's attorneys, in a statement, said "we welcome a courageous decision that represents a decisive turning point," saying the U.N. panel validated Mr. Ghosn's contention that he was denied impartial justice and subjected to "unfair and degrading treatments." They predicted any legal proceedings based on the Japanese case are "liable to be declared null and void."

The U.N. panel's criticisms involve practices that are common in Japan's justice system, not just in Mr. Ghosn's case. Independent human rights groups, both inside and outside of Japan, have frequently made the same criticisms.

In general, Mr. Ghosn and the panel aren't disputing that he was treated in accordance with Japanese law, but they contend that Japanese law limits suspects' rights beyond what is acceptable under international human-rights standards. Among other things, the panel said Mr. Ghosn should have been allowed to have his lawyer present when he was interrogated.

Japan says defendants have ample access to a lawyer, and have the right to remain silent during any interrogation. Permitting a defense lawyer in interrogations might prevent authorities from getting at the truth of what happened, officials have said.

(Dow Jones)

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