Editor’s Note: James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also is an adjunct assistant professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesAGagliano. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, escaped Japan on Sunday, where he was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges. Unlike many bail-jumpers who miss court dates because they are often impoverished, addicted to drugs, or unfamiliar with the court system, Ghosn reveals just how easy it is for the wealthy and powerful to evade justice.
Once a highly-respected businessman, Ghosn’s arrest in November 2018 made headlines around the world. He was subsequently forced out at Nissan and Mitsubishi before resigning from his post as CEO of Renault. As a condition of his release on bail set at 500 million yen – the equivalent of $4.5 million – last April, he was restricted to house arrest, subjected to 24-hour surveillance at his Tokyo residence, and ordered to turn over all three of his passports (Ghosn is a citizen of France, Brazil, and Lebanon).
Ghosn, who fled to Lebanon this week, and is the subject named on an active Interpol arrest warrant, emailed a statement on Tuesday accusing the Japanese justice system of being “rigged,” and denying he had “fled justice” – maintaining he was a victim of a conspiracy and “political persecution.”
It may be true that Japanese courts are notorious for an almost 100% conviction rate. And due process provisions are distinctly different than those in the United States and other Western countries – Japan’s system has been referred to as “hostage justice” since the accused can be detained and subject to interrogations for up to 23 days prior to indictment. Regardless of the inadequacies of the Japanese justice system, the financial misconduct charges leveled against Ghosn were considered solid.
He must have recognized that his astounding wealth would provide little protection for him in his trial, which was scheduled for April. And so he set in motion an international operation that would have made the creative screenwriters of The Great Escape feel wholly inadequate.
Just how did Ghosn pull off such an audacious maneuver? According to Reuters and the Financial Times, Ghosn was smuggled out of Tokyo by a private security company.
Ghosn boarded a flight bound for Turkey, where he accessed a connecting flight to Lebanon, according to the Anadolu news agency. The governor of Istanbul said Turkey has already detained seven people in connection with the investigation into his escape.
Wild theories have already spread like wildfire, roundly humiliating his host country in the process. But what is most important in attempts to grasp just how this international plot was devised and successfully effected is this – only a well-connected bail-jumper with access to boatloads of cash could effect such a complex getaway.
We certainly don’t have all the details behind his escape. And since Lebanon and Japan do not share an extradition agreement, Ghosn may never face justice in Japan, or anywhere else for that matter.
Do not expect to hear news reports of Japanese commandos transgressing sovereign borders on a secret rendition to bring Ghosn to justice. As sinister as financial misconduct is, this can’t compare to cases like Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution” who was tracked down, abducted, and returned to Israel for trial and hanging. You also won’t find similarities with SEAL Team 6’s operation to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. It simply isn’t worth an international crisis when it comes to capturing a well-heeled absconder accused of financial crimes.
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And yet this sad episode is but another of the countless examples of how wealthy suspects expertly understand just how to circumvent multi-jurisdictional criminal justice systems, and why collaborative law enforcement around the world is a difficult endeavor. Thus far, Carlos Ghosn has outwitted and beaten the system where cash is king.
But then again, he’s been engaged in an expensive game of chess, while the rule of law was playing checkers.