TOKYO -- Indicted former Nissan Motor Co. boss Carlos Ghosn caused a media stir in Japan on Friday when he called a snap news conference and then -- just two and half hours later -- abruptly canceled.
It would have been the auto executive’s first chance to face the mass media since his initial arrest last November on charges of financial misconduct at Nissan.
Instead, it marked the second failed attempt to hold a conference, after an earlier plan for one April 11 fell through. That event was scrubbed when prosecutors arrested Ghosn days beforehand.
Friday's change of plans came after Ghosn's family and media advisors staged a last-minute intervention to persuade him to call off the press conference, according to a statement issued by the host of the ill-fated event, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
Just hours earlier, the FCCJ had issued a media invitation to a hastily called press briefing at 9 p.m. Friday night at the club’s facility in downtown Tokyo.
A person familiar with family’s thinking said several issues factored into cancelling the event.
Among them was a concern that Ghosn, 65, would be exposed to questions he could not answer publicly due to his legal strategy. There was also concern that Japanese prosecutors would give extra scrutiny to Ghosn’s adherence to bail conditions, should he publicly criticize their case.
Finally, there was the argument that his message would be lost in a swirl of other news currently streaming out of Japan, which is hosting world leaders for the Group of 20 summit.
Ghosn faces four indictments in Japan on charges of financial misdeeds during his time at Nissan. He denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a corporate coup meant to stymie plans to further integrate Nissan with its French alliance partner Renault.
On one level, however, the scrubbed news conference may have been initially conceived to coincide with the G20 summit to bring attention to Ghosn’s case and criticism of Japan’s legal system as world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, gather in Osaka.
Ahead of the meeting, Ghosn’s media representatives have been stepping up a campaign to position his case as a rallying call for reforming Japan’s criminal justice system.
Ghosn’s wife, Carole, has said in recent interviews she hopes Trump would use the G20 as a platform to make an appeal for justice reform when he meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The critique focuses on Japan’s custom of detaining suspects for weeks without charge, subjecting them to harsh jail conditions and questioning them for hours without a lawyer present.
Stringent bail conditions are another point of contention. Ghosn, for example, is forbidden from contacting his wife without court approval. Prosecutors argue that this is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence. Critics say it is simply an attempt to break Ghosn before trial.
Critics also contend Japan uses its justice system as a cudgel to achieve political objectives.
In Ghosn’s case, his backers say Ghosn is the victim of a conspiracy between Nissan and the Japanese government to block his plan to integrate Nissan with Renault. They argue that the Japanese government, in a protectionist move, wants to safeguard a company that is a backbone of one of the country’s most important economic sectors.
Nissan maintains that the sole trigger of Ghosn’s legal troubles is his alleged misconduct.
“Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct,” a Nissan spokeman said. “Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge.”
Critics of Japan’s system have said Ghosn’s arrest might have a chilling effect on Japan’s attempt to attract international talent to the country and discourage foreign investment.
They say it also serves as a warning to tourists visiting Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics about the harsh repercussions they could face if they run afoul of the law.
Ghosn’s trial is expected to begin next spring. Prosecutors have said he faces up 15 years in prison and a fine up to 150 million yen ($1.4 million) if convicted on all counts.