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Ghosn out on bail after more than 100 days

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn walking out of a Tokyo detention centre on Wednesday © AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

Tokyo, Japan, Mar 6 – Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn left his Tokyo detention centre Wednesday after more than 100 days in custody, following a shock court decision granting him bail of one billion yen ($9 million).

Ghosn left the detention centre in northern Tokyo flanked by guards, wearing a blue cap, a white medical face mask and a work jacket with orange reflective stripes.

Unrecognisable from the tycoon who dominated the auto sector for decades, Ghosn’s outfit was a far cry from his usual sharp suits and caught the waiting pack of the world’s media off guard.

Without acknowledging the banks of cameras snapping wildly, he drove off in a silver van — a Suzuki — complete with a workman’s ladder strapped to the top.

Ghosn’s unexpected outfit was the latest surprise in a case that has provided frequent twists and turns that kept Japan and the business world on tenterhooks.

The man who once stood at the head of the world’s top-selling car alliance paid his hefty bail bond “in cash,” according to the Tokyo District Court.

It has been a long three months for the ex Nissan chief © AFP / Gal ROMA

Throughout his more than three months in custody, Ghosn, 64, has loudly proclaimed his innocence, stressing in a recent statement he was “totally committed to vigorously defending” himself against “meritless and unsubstantiated accusations.”

He faces three charges — two of under-reporting his salary in key documents to shareholders — and one of attempting to transfer personal investment losses to Nissan.

– ‘Completely new legal strategy’ –

The Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian executive had applied for bail twice without success, both times the court judged him a flight risk who might destroy evidence.

Junichiro Hironaka, lawyer for former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, won bail for his client © AFP/File / Behrouz MEHRI

Seemingly frustrated by the lack of progress, Ghosn shook up his legal team, replacing his defence lawyer — who was a former prosecutor — with a hotshot lawyer known as the “Razor” for his mental sharpness.

This lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, has an unusually strong record of securing acquittals in a country where almost every trial ends in a conviction.

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He told reporters on Monday that he had launched a “completely new legal strategy” to secure his famous client’s release and his bail request offered fresh restrictions to win the court’s trust.

The bail terms reportedly prevent Ghosn from leaving Japan and include other measures restricting his communications.

Kyodo news agency said Ghosn’s cell phone use would be restricted and he would only be allowed to access a computer in his lawyer’s office during weekday daytime hours.

He will also be banned from contacting Nissan executives and other people with links to the allegations against him, but he could still attend board meetings if the court gives approval, according to Kyodo.

– ‘Good thing’ –

Ghosn’s prolonged stay behind bars had shone the spotlight on Japan’s controversial justice system and prompted criticism internationally and from rights groups.

The case sparked intense media interest © AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

Speaking to AFP and French daily Les Echos in January — his only interview with foreign media since his arrest — Ghosn said his continued detention “would not be normal in any other democracy”.

“Why am I being punished before being found guilty?” he asked.

Under Japanese law, prosecutors can hold a suspect for up to 22 days while they investigate an allegation, and then can apply for repeated one-month stretches of pre-trial detention for each charge eventually levelled.

Suspects can, therefore, stay in detention for several months before their case comes to trial.

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French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said it was “a good thing that Carlos Ghosn can defend himself freely and without restriction.”

A towering figure once revered in Japan for turning around Nissan’s fortunes, Ghosn also forged a successful alliance between Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and France’s Renault.

But his attempts to deepen the alliance caused resentment in some quarters, and Ghosn has claimed the allegations against him are part of a “plot” by opponents of greater integration between the three firms.

Nissan declined to comment on the bail decision, saying it was a matter for courts and prosecutors.

Ghosn’s family also went to the detention centre © AFP / Toshifumi KITAMURA

However, it said that an internal probe had “uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct” and that “further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge”.

“The company’s focus is firmly on addressing weaknesses in governance that failed to prevent this misconduct,” it added in a statement issued on Tuesday

The next twist is likely to be Ghosn’s trial but this could yet take a long time.

Given the number of people involved in the complex case and their wide geographical spread, Hironaka said the case would run over a “very long time span”.

However, he said prosecutors had begun handing over some of their evidence prior to a potential trial.

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