Carlos Ghosn walked out of a Tokyo prison on bail after 108 days in detention, vowing to fight allegations of financial crimes that could imprison the former Nissan Motor Co chairman for as long as a decade.
Flanked by police officers and wearing a light blue baseball cap, face mask and eyeglasses, Ghosn climbed into a silver Suzuki van and left the detention centre where he’d been locked up since his November 19 arrest. He went first to the office of one of his Japanese lawyers, where he changed into a business suit before leaving in a black Toyota minivan.
A Tokyo court on Tuesday granted his release and subsequently upheld its decision after an appeal by prosecutors. His bail of 1 billion yen ($8.9 million, Dh32.8 million) is among the highest ever in Japan.
Getting out on bail allows Ghosn to prepare for a trial that’s likely months away. His surprise arrest and imprisonment on allegations of financial misdeeds roiled the two-decade auto alliance between Nissan and Renault SA and cast a harsh light on aspects of Japan’s legal system. He initially wasn’t granted access to lawyers and had two previous bail applications rejected.
“I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” Ghosn, 64, said earlier in a statement.
To win approval of his bail application, Ghosn agreed to several restrictions.
“There will be very intense surveillance,” Francois Zimeray, a French lawyer representing Ghosn’s wife and four children, told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday. “It’s not total liberty. But compared to the nightmare of his incarceration, with minimal rights in the Kosuge jail, for him it’s an improvement.”
Ghosn’s arrest rocked the world’s biggest auto alliance — which includes Mitsubishi Motors Corp — at a time when the industry globally is wrestling with an array of challenges, from slowing sales in key markets such as the US and China to long-term technological change requiring massive investment.
Long the glue binding the partnership together, Ghosn was chairman of all three companies, chief executive officer of Renault and head of the alliance before his arrest. He remains a member of the board at Renault until the annual shareholders’ meeting in June.
In prison, Ghosn endured frequent interrogation by prosecutors and had only limited contact with his legal team and family. The case put Japan’s justice system under scrutiny, leading to criticism of its reliance on defendants’ confessions, which often are made without a lawyer present.
Now that Ghosn has been released he will be able to defend himself “freely” and “calmly,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters in Paris on Wednesday.
Ghosn’s lead lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, previously said the case raises questions about the fairness of Japan’s legal system, repeating a statement by the International Federation for Human Rights. He also has suggested the arrest was the result of a conspiracy inside the automaker, though he didn’t name any Nissan officials.
“Nissan does not have any role in decisions made by courts or prosecutors, and is therefore not in a position to offer a comment,” Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for the carmaker, said on Tuesday in an email.
Nissan and Renault are reviewing their finances and the pay of top managers in the wake of the arrest and began a joint audit of the Dutch company that oversees their partnership. The probes already shone a light on some controversial practices from Ghosn’s tenure at Renault, including celebrations at the Versailles palace outside Paris.
Thierry Bollore, who replaced Ghosn as Renault CEO in January, told Bloomberg Television in Geneva on Tuesday that, so far, the French carmaker’s probe hasn’t uncovered any governance issues beyond the “little story” of the Versailles events. He said he expects the review will be completed this month, and he declined to comment on Ghosn’s effort to win bail.
Nissan took an $83 million charge last month related to the future compensation of Ghosn as it warned of its lowest profit in six years. The company’s debt rating then was cut by S&P Global Ratings to A- from A.
Confronting a Japanese legal system with a 99 per cent conviction rate, Ghosn last month replaced a defence team led by former local prosecutor Motonari Otsuru with one overseen by Hironaka, who is known for aggressive tactics defending high-profile clients such as a former senior bureaucrat accused of corruption.