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Ghosn lawyer outraged by Japan's justice system and escape

TOKYO – A lawyer for former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn said Saturday that he felt outraged and betrayed by his client's escape from Japan to Lebanon, but also expressed an understanding for his feelings of not being able to get a fair trial.

"My anger gradually began to turn to something else," Takashi Takano wrote in his blog post.

Referring to Japan's judicial system, he said, “I was betrayed, but the one who betrayed me is not Carlos Ghosn."

Takano described how Ghosn had been barred from seeing his wife, in what Takano called a violation of human rights, and how Ghosn worried whether he would get a fair trial because of prosecutors' leaks to the media and the prospect that the legal process may take years.

Ghosn, who was awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges, was last seen on surveillance video leaving his Tokyo home alone on Dec. 29, presumably to board his getaway plane.

Although the security cameras at his home were on 24 hours a day, the footage was only required to be submitted to the court once a month, on the 15th, according to lawyers' documents detailing Ghosn's bail conditions.

Takano, the main lawyer on Ghosn's team in charge of his bail, acknowledged that most suspects would not be able to pull off an escape like Ghosn's. But if they could, “they certainly would have tried,” he said.

Takano said he told Ghosn that in all the cases he has handled, there has been none in which the evidence was so scant, and that the chances for winning an innocent verdict were good, even if the trial was not fair.

Takano said the last time he saw Ghosn was Christmas Eve, when he was sitting in on the one-hour video call between Ghosn and his wife, Carole. Under the bail conditions, a lawyer's presence is required for the calls, and the length of the call is also restricted.

Takano, who is fluent in English, quoted Ghosn as expressing his unfailing love for his family, ending the call with an “I love you."

Ghosn is known for never having missed a Christmas with his family despite the arduous schedule of an auto executive.

Takano said he had never before felt such disgust over Japan's legal system.

He apologized to Ghosn after the call, saying he felt shame, and promised to do his utmost in the court case.

Ghosn did not reply, Takano recalled in the blog post, which says the opinions are his own and not of the entire legal team.

The major Japanese daily Sankei reported Saturday that Ghosn's flight took off just as a private security company hired by Nissan Motor Co. to keep watch over Ghosn stopped work.

Ghosn had been preparing a complaint against the security company, according to Sankei.

Another lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, has complained that spying on his client was a violation of human rights, but he declined to say who might be behind it.

Nissan was closed for the holidays and not immediately available for comment. Sankei said Nissan was worried the surveillance conditions set by the Japanese court weren't sufficient to keep tabs on Ghosn.

Hironaka told public broadcaster NHK TV late Friday that Ghosn had carried one of his French passports in a locked plastic case so that it could be read without unlocking, in case he was stopped by authorities. The lawyers had the key. Hironaka told NHK that the case could have been smashed with a hammer. Hironaka has denied any knowledge of the escape.

All foreigners in Japan are required to have their passports with them to show to police or other officials. It is unclear whether the French passport is the one Ghosn used to enter Lebanon.

Lebanese authorities have said Ghosn entered the country legally on a French passport, though he had been required to surrender all his passports to his lawyers under the terms of his bail. He also holds Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship.

Video footage at Ghosn's home shows him walking out Dec. 29, according to NHK. An earlier report said he was carted out inside a musical instrument case.

Turkish airline MNG Jet said two of its planes were used illegally in Ghosn’s escape, first flying him from Osaka, Japan, to Istanbul, and then on to Beirut, where he arrived Monday and has not been seen since.

It said a company employee had admitted to falsifying flight records so that Ghosn's name did not appear, adding that he acted “in his individual capacity" without MNG Jet's knowledge. The company did not say to whom the jets were leased or identify the employee.

Interpol has issued a wanted notice for Ghosn. Japan has no extradition treaty with Lebanon and it appeared unlikely he would be handed over.

It's not clear how Japan might respond.

The defiant and stunning escape of such a high-profile suspect has raised serious questions about the surveillance methods of the Japanese bail system.

Some may argue bail decisions should become more stringent, when bail is already restricted in Japan compared to the U.S. Trials and preparations before they start take far longer in Japan, where the conviction rate is higher than 99%.

Electronic tethers common in the U.S. are not used in Japan for bail. Ghosn had offered to wear one when he requested bail.

Government offices were shut down for the New Year's holiday, and there have been no official statements.

Ghosn, who has said in a statement that he left to avoid Japan's “injustice,” is set to speak to reporters in Beirut on Wednesday.

He has repeatedly said he is innocent, stressing that the charges were trumped up to block a fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA of France.

He has been charged in Japan with underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust in funneling Nissan money for personal use. Ghosn says the income was never decided, and the payments were for legitimate business.

No date was set for his trial, although his lawyers were aiming for April.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama at https://twitter.com.yurikageyama