Why Ness Wadia Was Lucky to Get Away (Relatively) Clean in Japan

Before Wadia’s lucky escape, Carlos Ghosn’s case was a good example of what is called Japan’s ‘hostage justice’.

3 min read
Ness Wadia admitted to the possession of drugs, saying that it was for his personal use.

In March this year, in the north Japanese island of Hokkaido, Ness Wadia was arrested for reportedly carrying 25 grams of cannabis resin. As the news of his conviction broke on Tuesday, 30 April, the ‘two-year prison sentence suspended for five years’ handed to him became a talking point.

Here’s why Ness Wadia should consider himself lucky to have come out of the situation relatively unscathed.

What Does the Sentence Mean?

The immediate relief for Wadia would be the fact that he will not be thrown behind bars. ‘Two-year prison sentence suspended for five years’ basically means Wadia will not be arrested, as long as he does not commit any other crime during the specified five-year period.

However, if Wadia is found guilty of any other crime within five years, he will have to serve two years of imprisonment along with the quantum of sentence for the other crime, back in Japan.

In the present case, he reportedly spent a period in detention before he was indicted on 20 March.

In an official statement, the Wadia group has clarified that Ness is back in India. “Ness Wadia is in India. The judgement is clear. It's a suspended sentence. Hence it won't impact Ness Wadia in the discharge of any of his responsibilities,” the statement said.

Close Call

Japan is known for its high conviction rate, and harsh jail conditions.

The country has exceptionally low crime rates but a 99.9 percent conviction rate a statistic that has caused global concern about Japan’s justice system.

The latest example of Japan’s harsh penal system is the case of ex-Nissan chief Charles Ghosn. In November 2019, Ghosn was arrested in Japan on allegations of financial misconduct. After 108 days in jail, he was released on bail of 1 billion yen ($9 million), only to be rearrested a month later on new charges and then granted bail again after three weeks.

In another example, Mark Karpeles, a Japan-based French citizen who was chief executive of the now-bankrupt bitcoin exchange Mt.Gox, spent close to a year in custody after his arrest in 2015, before being indicted for embezzling around 340 million yen.

Drawing a parallel to Ghosn’s case might be bit of a stretch since they committed different crimes, but the fact that he was reportedly denied basic amenities like ‘blanket, pen and paper’, attests to the concerns regarding Japan’s legal system.

Reports also say that suspects are often ‘deprived of sleep’ and 'forced into awkward physical positions’ inside prison cells.

The cases of Ghosn and Karpeles are classic examples of what is often called Japan’s ‘hostage justice’.

Wadia should consider himself even more fortunate, given the high intolerance Japan has for use of drugs. 

An article by a Japan-based website Kotaku says the trend began after the Second World War, when the US introduced ‘full prohibition’ of drugs in Japan. Following which, the country undertook the principle of jishuku, which means ‘self-restraint’.

The US state department has, in fact issued the following warning about Japan’s drug laws:

“...offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines. In most drug cases, suspects are detained and barred from receiving visitors or corresponding with anyone other than a lawyer or a US consular officer until after indictment. Solitary confinement is common.”

What Is ‘Hostage Justice’?

An article by The Economist suggests that Japan’s detention system is such that “some suspects will falsely admit guilt just to end a stressful interrogation”.

An Al-Jazeera article links this method of extracting confession to the high conviction rate in Japan, terming it ‘hostage justice’.

In Japan, police and prosecutors may hold ordinary criminal suspects for up to 23 days without charge — longer than most other developed countries allow even terrorist suspects to be detained, The Economist’s article says.

Going by a Japan Times article, Wadia may have even more reason to worry. The article suggests a strong Japanese bias against non-Japanese nationals as far as criminal prosecution is concerned.

The article says non-Japanese are particularly disadvantaged because:

  • There is no certified quality control for court and investigative language interpretation
  • Public prosecutors can have negative attitudes toward non-Japanese
  • Non-Japanese cannot get bail (hoshaku)

(With inputs from The Economist, Al-Jazeera, The Washington Post, Kotaku.com and Japan Times)

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