TOKYO — Locked in his tiny, spartan Tokyo detention cell last week, one of the most powerful men in the auto industry was surviving on meals of rice and likely being subjected to hours of relentless interrogation in the absence of his lawyers.
The stunning reversal of fortune for Carlos Ghosn, until last month the chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi, and still CEO of Renault and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, highlights big differences in Japan's legal system from the U.S. It also shows how the deck is stacked against suspects in a country that boasts a 99 percent conviction rate.
The man hailed for saving Nissan 19 years ago now sits in Tokyo's Kosuge detention center. It is the same jail where Shoko Asahara, the bearded cult leader responsible for Tokyo's deadly 1995 subway sarin gas attack, was first imprisoned, then hanged in July.
Life there is distressing by design.
For suspects such as Ghosn, who has yet to be formally charged despite being arrested two weeks ago, dehumanizing discipline aims to break the will and coax a confession, said attorney Megumi Wada, who represents an American client in the same facility.
The jail is notoriously hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Suspects often are grilled for up to eight hours a day, usually without their lawyer present. Talk in any language other than Japanese must be interpreted for the ever-present guards.
Because Japan has no pre-indictment bail system, Ghosn could remain locked up for a long time. Suspects can be detained for up to 23 days without a formal charge. But prosecutors sometimes bring new allegations to "rearrest" the suspect and start the cycle all over again.
Greg Kelly, the American director on Nissan's board who was arrested with Ghosn on Nov. 19 and accused of being part of an alleged scheme of financial misconduct, also was being held at Kosuge as of last week. He was being interrogated every afternoon and evening, said Yoichi Kitamura, Kelly's lawyer in Japan.
"He said it's inhumane," Kitamura said of his client, noting that Kelly maintains his innocence.
Japanese media reported that Ghosn also denied the allegations against him.
One former Nissan executive said that if anybody can go toe-to-toe with Tokyo's interrogators, it's the unflappable businessman Carlos Ghosn. He has a reputation for being able to speak at length in great detail on virtually any topic to do with the companies that he ran.
"I've known him a long time," the person said. "He is not the kind of guy who is going to crumble mentally."