Carlos Ghosn vs. Extreme Justice
Here at Whiskey & Gunpowder, we hope you had a good Christmas-Hanukkah-New Year holiday. Now, it’s back to work.
In the flurry of activity over the past couple of weeks, an odd story caught my eye. You may have seen it, or not. It was sandwiched between all manner of political-economic-military-etc. coverage. But it’s intriguing…
It’s about a jailbreak.
Well… a jailbreak, after a fashion. That is, a guy busted-out, but not like in the movie Shawshank Redemption. He didn’t dig through concrete walls and crawl down a sewer pipe.
No, this guy truly “flew” from his captors. He hid inside a musical instrument case that was loaded as cargo on an airplane in Japan. Next stop… Istanbul, and onward to Beirut.
Japan, Turkey, Lebanon… It’s exotic, to be sure. Definitely, there’s a story here; if not an action-packed movie.
But this is more than an amusing tale of a man going over the wall. It highlights much that’s wrong with how governments administer so-called “justice” in the modern world. Indeed, it gets to the very heart of the idea of justice in a world where vicious corruption is often just below the veneer of legalistic respectability.
Let’s dig into this…
This jailbreak story concerns Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of the Renault-Nissan group. Born in Brazil, of Lebanese heritage, Ghosn grew up to become a high profile, go-go international business executive. In his last job, he ran a large, global-scale automotive conglomerate.
But Ghosn is no longer a corporate bigshot.
In November 2018, Ghosn stepped off an airplane in Japan and was promptly arrested.
As is often the case when famous people go down, the press had been alerted. Ghosn was perp-walked in front of the cameras. He was presented to the world in newspapers and broadcast media as a greedy, horrible, corporate criminal; a “crime in the suites” kind of guy, stealing from the company and cheating on his taxes. All that, and more…
For the past year, Ghosn has been detained in Japan; first in jail, in solitary confinement, and then under strict house arrest.
Ghosn was charged by Japanese authorities with a long list of financial crimes such as misusing company money for personal expenditures, and under-reporting income; that sort of thing.
Japanese authorities made it very difficult for Ghosn to consult with attorneys. He was barred from contacting a long list of people who might become “witnesses” in the Japanese prosecution. And he had very limited contact even with members of his family.
After a long court battle, Ghosn was finally granted bail. The amount was $13.8 million. Or to use an automobile term, serious sticker-shock.
All along, Ghosn denied that he did anything wrong. He claims that he was just a busy, hard-working guy, running a global business. He incurred expenses related to travel, housing and related matters. He claims that the Renault-Nissan board approved everything.
And Ghosn claims that there’s anti-Western bias within Japanese law enforcement, based on decisions he has made regarding Nissan, a Japanese car company. Japanese don’t like “outsiders” – non-Japanese – who rise too far into their insular business hierarchy.
Indeed, there actually is an internal corporate battle at Nissan. Ghosn is part of a “foreign” faction, favoring global levels of design, marketing, production and sales; versus a more “nationalist,” Japan-centered view of Nissan’s future.
We won’t even try to litigate the case here. Just keep in mind that Japanese prosecutors charged Ghosn with a long list of crimes involving corporate governance and taxes. He denied everything. The case was headed for trial in April 2020.
On December 31, 2019, as Japan prepared for the New Year holiday, Ghosn snuck out. He flew the proverbial coop.
Ghosn hid inside a large black case, typically used to carry audio gear. Somehow, he arranged to have that case (with him inside) loaded onboard a private jet which then flew from Tokyo to Istanbul; thence to Beirut.
Ghosn is now in Lebanon, a country that has no extradition treaty to allow Japanese authorities to get him back to face his court case in Nippon.
In a statement released after Ghosn was in Beirut, he said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant and basic human rights are denied.”
Plus, Ghosn declared that he did not flee justice, but “escaped injustice and political persecution.”
Of course, you can expect someone to defend himself. Accused people commonly protest that they’ve done nothing wrong. Indeed, the jails of the world are filled with “innocent” people, per the cynical old joke amongst cops, lawyers, judges, court staff and jail guards.
Then again, it’s not just Ghosn knocking the administration of justice in Japan. No less than the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “It’s hard to blame him for fleeing Japan after his ill-treatment.”
The WSJ explained its editorial thinking, thusly…
“Disputes over compensation and corporate control should have been handled in the boardroom. Yet somehow—and this is the biggest mystery—they became a criminal matter. The suspicion hangs over the case that one or more individuals set out to use opaque governance rules to oust a foreigner from a position of Japanese corporate power.” 1
In other words, Ghosn’s flight highlights much that’s wrong with government-administered “justice” not just in Japan, but across the modern world. Or even the ancient world, while we’re on the topic.
“Extreme justice is extreme injustice,” said the Roman orator (and lawyer) Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE – 43 BCE).
Cicero was referring to a legal matter of his day, in which seemingly trifling violations of Roman law were punished severely. In Cicero’s view, many Roman punishments didn’t fit the crime.
Then again, in many societies and over many historical eras, so-called “criminal law” isn’t about ensuring justice. It’s about exerting control.
Here we are over 2,000 years later, since the days of Cicero; and have things really changed?
More and more, we live in a world in which punishment often doesn’t fit the crime.
I’m not talking about matters that are mala in se, to use an old Latin phrase; meaning bad things that everybody agrees are bad, like murder, arson, battery, robbery, etc.
It’s more along the lines of the massive growth of government “criminal” jurisdiction over matters that the bureaucratic state has decreed are somehow bad; mala prohibita, per Latin. In other words, when someone becomes a “criminal” simply because there’s a law or rule that criminalizes the very violation of that law or rule.
In Ghosn’s matter, the fundamental issues appear to be matters of internal matter of finance and corporate control. But Ghosn’s behavior has been transformed into a Japanese criminal prosecution.
In the process, Ghosn’s case – and his escape from Japan – has focused a bright light shining on harsh Japanese procedure such as pre-trial detention, denial of access to lawyers and witnesses, and much more.
As the world becomes more complex, the fundamental definition of “crime” has drifted away from traditional moorings in personal liberty, weighed against truly bad acts. We’re a long way from the idea of natural law that inspired the Bill of Rights.
Anymore, and for all of the Supreme Court cases that supposedly protect the rights of the accused in America, being arrested and charged with a crime can be the beginning of a long, expensive, destructive nightmare.
For example, most U.S. Attorney offices boast conviction rates in the vicinity of 98%. And it’s not because the government’s cases are always so well-researched or investigated, and thus airtight. Nor is it because government lawyers are just so darned good.
There’s a certain attitude amongst many government prosecutors; that the government “ought” to win, just because it’s the government. Meanwhile, in most criminal cases the government simply throws resources at a defendant until there’s a plea deal, under threat of a conviction at trial with a much longer, harsher sentence.
Not your problem, you say? Because you’re honest and ethical and careful to obey all laws… Right?
Not so fast, Pilgrim…
Let’s consider a high-profile, national-level issue. Refer back to Whiskey & Gunpowder from a few days ago (Dec. 31). Marty Robinson wrote about the recent legislative drive for a government clamp-down on guns in Virginia.
Basically, the 2018 elections brought a crop of crusading Democrat politicians into power; they hold serious, “gun-control” tendencies. And now they run the Virginia legislature. In 2019 this new political order began passing laws and writing new regulations to implement that vision within the commonwealth.
Second Amendment? Schmecond Schmamendment… These Virginia politicians mean business.
The new version of the “law” of gun control is still fluid in Virginia. But the idea is to place severe restrictions – if not outright bans – on certain kinds of weapons. Plus, place strict controls and taxes on ammunition and related firearms implements.
Here’s what can happen. Let’s say that you own certain kinds of weapons, or weapon magazines or ammunition. You can go from being a law-abiding, tax-paying, upstanding citizen one day to being a so-called “criminal” at the stroke of midnight.
It’s that easy…
Think about that… A few people – politicians – win elections. They march into the legislature and begin passing their version of so-called “criminal” laws. And now, you’re a criminal. You did nothing; certainly, you did nothing wrong. You harmed not a hair on anyone’s head. But by virtue of the new law, if you own a certain kind of property you’re defined as a criminal.
Is that how the law is supposed to work?
Let’s revisit Carlos Ghosn, now a resident of Beirut. He’s wealthy, powerful and – at one point in time – a serious player in global business. But the government of Japan charged him with crimes regarding “corporate governance;” then locked him up pending a court proceeding in which he’d be subject to that country’s 99% conviction rate.
Now, consider that a guy like Ghosn felt compelled to break out under cover, because he sensed – rightly, I suspect – that he didn’t stand a chance…
What happens when the government comes for you? When you’re charged with some so-called “crime” that’s a crime because the legislature was hijacked by leftist activists?
What happens when “extreme justice” truly becomes injustice?
It’s not an academic question anymore.
On that note, I rest my case.
That’s all for now… Thank you for subscribing and reading.
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
Bonus Content – I also wrote up my “Hot Take” on the recent Qassam Soleimani killing for our sister e-letter The Daily Edge. If you’re interested, you can view the full article online here.