Yesterday, two men with ties to Massachusetts, Michael and Peter Taylor, pled guilty in Tokyo to aiding former Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn escape Japan and evade a raft of charges related to financial improprieties. GBH legal analyst and Northeastern law professor Daniel Medwed joined Aaron Schachter on Morning Edition today to provide the legal context to the case and discuss the road ahead. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Aaron Schachter: Now this is quite a story, right? The whole case reads like a figment of a screenwriter's imagination. A Special Forces operative and his son hide Ghosn in a box in Japan and Tokyo and take him out of the country on a private plane. But while Ghosn is free in Lebanon, the Taylors were hauled to Japan to face the music. How did this happen?
Daniel Medwed: It's a twist in the screenwriter's plot that probably doesn't help the Taylors very much. Here's how it happened: It relates to how extradition treaties work. When countries are engaged in bilateral negotiations, they often include an extradition provision that spells out the circumstances in which one country can haul a citizen of another country back into court to face criminal charges. Lebanon and Japan don't have an extradition treaty, and that's why Ghosn can't be touched by Japanese authorities. And in fact, that's why he was secreted to Lebanon in the box.
However, the United States and Japan do have an extradition treaty. It's not boundless, though. And for many months, while the Taylors were here in Massachusetts, they fought the extradition order by Japan. Their claim was that the particular criminal charge that they're looking at — basically the Japanese equivalent of bail jumping, helping someone flee and not appear in court — wasn't covered by the extradition treaty. They lost that battle, which is why they're in their current predicament.
Schachter: So this whole thing about extradition is kind of like the case with Julian Assange, right? When he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years?
Medwed: That's exactly right. Julian Assange, the reason why he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for all that time is because Ecuador and the United States didn't have an extradition treaty. But he knew full well that if he ever set foot out of that embassy, he could be scooped up by British authorities and sent back to the United States. But because, of course, there's a long standing extradition arrangement between the U.K. and the United States, and in fact, in 2019 when Assange did step out of that embassy and he was about to face the music for the WikiLeaks scandal, he was hauled in by the British authorities and he remains incarcerated there while he fights extradition to the U.S.
WATCH: Daniel Medwed on guilty pleas in Japan
Schachter: How do guilty pleas work in Japan, Daniel? Was this a good idea for them to make that plea?
Medwed: That's a really interesting point. I think it was probably a good idea to make that plea because in Japan, the conviction rate is over 99 percent. Japan has what's called an inquisitorial or civil law system where the judge and the prosecutor have all the clout. And the defense lawyer, frankly, is a little bit of an afterthought. In Japan, you plead guilty. It doesn't resolve the case. It just means you face a sentencing trial where the judge decides what you should get. So the reason why you'd plead guilty in Japan is that you know you're going down anyway — 99 plus percent conviction rate — so why not curry favor with the judge in the hopes that you'll get some leniency on sentencing day?
Schachter: It seems sort of odd that you can have a near 100 percent conviction rate, that all that many people are guilty.
Medwed: A couple of different reasons: The first is that unlike in the United States, you don't have a robust right to counsel during police interrogations in Japan. You can be detained in Japan for days without a lawyer. In fact, you can be detained for about 23 days without being charged with a crime at all. Second, as a cultural matter, prosecutors just don't take cases to trial unless there's ironclad evidence of guilt. They'll drop the case instead of potentially losing face by not securing a conviction at trial.
Schachter: Do we know how long the Taylors face in jail?
Medwed: Yes, the maximum sentence, I believe, is three years.
Schachter: So things are not looking great for the Taylors.