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Axed Nissan boss leaves Tokyo jail

Ghosn vows to fight ‘meritless’ misconduct charges

Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn
Image: AFP

Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn left prison on a Y1bn (R127m) bail on Wednesday, slipping past a throng of reporters in a blue cap and surgical mask, after vowing to mount a defence against financial misconduct charges that he has called meritless.

Surrounded by security guards and dressed in a workman’s uniform and glasses, Ghosn was virtually unrecognisable as he left, the Tokyo Detention House, where he had been confined to a small cell with no heating for more than 100 days.

The once-feted executive got into a small work van parked near the jail’s front entrance.

Public broadcaster NHK later showed the vehicle exiting the facility grounds, where hundreds of journalists, photographers and TV crews have been camped, some overnight.

Ghosn paid the ¥1bn bail, among the highest ever in Japan, after the Tokyo District Court rejected a last-ditch appeal by prosecutors to keep him in jail.

Ghosn, also the former chair of Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, has agreed to strict bail conditions and given assurances that he will remain in Tokyo, surrender his passport to his lawyer and submit to extensive surveillance.

He has agreed to set up cameras at the entrances and exits to his residence, and is prohibited from using the internet or sending and receiving text messages.

Ghosn is also banned from communicating with parties involved in his case, and permitted computer access only at his lawyer’s office.

He faces charges of aggravated breach of trust and underreporting his salary by about $82m (R1.16bn) at Nissan for nearly a decade.

If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, prosecutors have said.

“I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” he said on Tuesday.

The finance minister of France welcomed Ghosn’s release, saying the executive would now be able to defend himself with greater ease.

Brazilian-born Ghosn holds French citizenship.

The release will allow Ghosn – the architect of Nissan’s manufacturing partnership with Renault and Mitsubishi – to meet his new legal team more often and build a defence ahead of the trial, which could be months away.

In February, Ghosn hired lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, nicknamed “the Razor” for his success at winning acquittals in several high-profile cases, to replace Motonari Otsuru, who once ran the prosecutor’s office investigating him.

Hironaka’s appointment suggests a shift to a more aggressive defence strategy.

He has already said that the charges against Ghosn should have been dealt with as an internal company matter and that Japan was out of step with international norms by keeping his client in jail.

The case has cast a harsh light on Japan’s criminal justice system, which allows suspects to be detained for long periods and prohibits defence lawyers from being present during interrogations that can last eight hours a day.

While the bail is a significant step, Ghosn still faces a criminal justice system with a conviction rate of 99.9%.

Credited with reviving Nissan in the early 2000s, Ghosn was one of the most powerful motor industry figures as head of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, whose combined sales rank it among the world’s biggest car manufacturers.

At the time of his arrest, he had been seeking a full merger of the companies, an idea that was opposed by many Nissan executives.

However, his arrest has since muddied the outlook for the alliance, which is based on a web of cross-shareholding and operational integration.

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