Ghosn in Beirut, or Yom Kippur Attack on Japanese People

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

Carlos Ghosn, Ex-Nissan CEO, fled from Japan to Beirut, Lebanon on Dec. 30, 2019. This incident disrupted serenity of the most important festival season in Japan. From end of the year to New Year, Japanese people celebrate solemnly a religious holiday of closing a year and the dawn of a new year. Most of the economic and political activities are brought to halt and people go back to home to spend time with their families. The end of the year/new year season for Japanese religiosity is an equivalent of the end of the month of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr for Muslim, or Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

Mr. Ghosn took advantage of this year-end lapse and got away with flight on a private jet to Istanbul, then received a VIP welcome in Beirut. It is presumed that a large-scale operation to smuggle him out of Japan was conducted, probably involving state or semi-state entities.

This surprise attack caused an uproar in the Japanese public sphere which felt disgraced with this rampant breach of law and a serious challenge to Japanese sovereignty.

Mr. Ghosn was arrested in Nov. 2018 and indicted for alleged financial misconducts and misuse of company assets. Freed from jail on bail, he has been denying any wrongdoings and claimed injustices in Japanese justice system. Some western media followed suit in carelessly dismissing Japanese legal jurisdiction and applauded his escape.

Japanese judicial system leaves much room for reform for its excessive rigidity and outdated heavy-handed procedures. However, if a “just system” means a system which allows preferential treatments to global corporate elites who accumulate exorbitant amount of money exploiting loopholes of multiple state’s legal systems juggling multiple passports, it is not what Japanese public takes as right, where diet member was arrested for less than 10 thousand US dollars of bribe, ministers resigned for the misuse of several thousand US dollars of public money and the Prime Minister was grilled throughout an entire Diet session for inviting too many guests from ruling LDP party’s constituency to once-a-year government-organized garden party cherishing Sakura cherry blossoms.

If Mr. Ghosn righteously detested the “corrupt” Japanese justice system, he could have submitted himself to the French authority to receive fair justice, but he didn’t. Instead, he chose a hero’s return to Lebanon.

He may be anticipating a preferential treatment he thinks he deserves in Lebanon which may prove to be a place where his financial misconduct is taken as a minor offensive at most, or even accepted as a normal way of conduct in corporate or state affairs. Whether this is the case or not depends much on Lebanese people’s decision.