The Japanese government battled to restore its image on Thursday, hours after former auto executive Carlos Ghosn blasted the country’s legal system in a marathon press conference following his escape to Lebanon.
Justice Minister Masako Mori held an unusual briefing in the early morning hours in Tokyo, and then gave a second press conference later on to rebut what she said were mostly "abstract, unclear or baseless” criticisms of the country’s legal system.
She was scathing in her descriptions of Ghosn’s behavior after he told the world he skipped bail and fled Japan because he didn’t think he would get a fair trial.
"He has been propagating both within Japan and internationally false information on Japan’s legal system and its practice, ” Mori said in her first briefing. "That is absolutely intolerable.”
Ghosn, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, used the first press conference since his dramatic escape to blast what he called "hostage justice.”
Speaking in four languages, he offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges against him and accused Japanese prosecutors, government officials and Nissan executives of conspiring to topple him to prevent a further integration of the Japanese carmaker with Renault.
Mori said Thursday she was aware of criticism of Japan’s criminal justice system, and said authorities are taking steps to improve it.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, which rarely makes any public comment, posted a statement in English on its website saying Ghosn had only himself to blame for his strict bail conditions and vowing to try to bring him to justice in Japan.
"It is my strong hope that he engage in all possible efforts to make his case within Japan’s fair criminal justice proceedings, and that he seek justice rendered by a Japanese court," Mori said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Sugaalso piled in, calling Ghosn’s comments one-sided and not persuasive.
In response to Ghosn’s assertion that Japan breached his human rights by preventing him from seeing his wife, Mori said such measures were only used in cases of a flight risk or when there was a danger of evidence being concealed or destroyed. Mori also lauded Japan’s police, judges and prosecutors for building what she said was the "safest country in the world.”
At his news conference in Beirut, Ghosn refrained from accusing specific people in the Japanese government of any wrongdoing, citing the need to avoid creating friction between Lebanon and Japan. He also said he didn’t think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was involved.
Abe has avoided making any public comments about Ghosn. Kyodo News reported on Wednesday that he told a party lawmaker at a dinner in Tokyo ahead of Ghosn’s news conference that he had wanted the situation "to be sorted out within Nissan in the first place.”
Abe’s government has sought cooperation from Lebanon to bring Ghosn back to Japan.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun pledged to work on the issue in a meeting Tuesday with Japan’s ambassador in Beirut, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement.
Lebanon prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat will listen to Ghosn’s testimony on Thursday after Japan issued a Red Notice from Interpol, the international police organization, state-run National News Agency said. Ghosn said in the briefing that he wanted to clear his name and would stand trial "in any country where I believe I can receive a fair trial.”
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