Business | ANALYSIS

Ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn set to be released on bail after court rejects appeal by prosecutors

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

Ahead of his 65th birthday on Saturday, former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn may see his birthday wish come true: regaining his freedom, albeit conditionally.

After 107 days behind bars, starting with his sudden detention at Tokyo’s Haneda airport when he was accused of engaging in financial misconduct, the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday granted Ghosn bail. The court rejected a last-ditch effort by prosecutors to reverse its decision to release Ghosn on bail, paving the way for him to be released as soon as Wednesday. He is expected to be released once a bond of ¥1 billion is paid.

“I am extremely grateful for my family and friends who have stood by me throughout this terrible ordeal,” Ghosn said in a statement released Tuesday night. “I am also grateful to the NGOs and human rights activists in Japan and around the world who fight for the cause of presumption of innocence and a fair trial. I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations.”

The request for bail, submitted Thursday, was the third attempt to secure his release. This time, though, there was a twist: The request was put forward under a new legal team appointed in mid-February.

Experts say legal strategies under the new team might have played a role in the court’s decision to grant him bail despite the allegations put forward by the powerful Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office special investigation unit.

Junichiro Hironaka, one of the attorneys representing Ghosn, is an experienced attorney who earned the nickname “Razor” for his sharp acumen and long track record of winning not-guilty verdicts in some of the country’s most high-profile cases. He noted earlier that he believes Ghosn is innocent based on his “gut feeling” as a lawyer, interactions with him and reading his books.

The 73-year-old attorney said Monday the legal team listed measures in its latest bail appeal that would diminish Ghosn’s chance of destroying evidence — such as restricting his ability to communicate with people on the outside and being placed under surveillance. As is usual with bail, he will be barred from traveling overseas.

“I believe that we have presented our own convincing application showing that there is indeed no flight risk or risk of tampering with evidence,” Hironaka told reporters Monday.

Nobuo Gohara, an attorney who has insisted on Ghosn’s innocence from the time of his arrest, said reshuffling the legal team was integral to the successful bail appeal. The new team, unlike the first one, was able to demonstrate and convince the judge that Ghosn does not pose a threat to stifle evidence, a sticking point the prosecutors have used to argue that he should not be granted bail.

“I think the requests were not granted because the previous legal team wasn’t able to refute the prosecutors sufficiently,” Gohara said.

On the decision itself, Gohara said it was “a matter of course” that should have been approved the first time. But he also characterized it as “a landmark” that the court sided against the prosecutor’s special investigation unit, an unusual occurrence in the Japanese criminal justice system.

The court rejected the previous requests after prosecutors brought new allegations against Ghosn in January. The district court said it was not authorizing bail due to the flight risk and potential destruction of evidence.

Attorney Yasuyuki Takai acknowledged the importance of including specific steps in the conditions for the bail but downplayed the importance of the legal team shake-up.

Rather, Takai said that Ghosn being granted bail is a reflection on the country’s changing legal system.

Like many advanced countries, Japan used to release a suspect on bail shortly after arrest, he said. But protracted detention became an issue in the late 1970s amid a major political scandal, establishing the questionable practice, he said.

However, in recent years judges have been more prone to grant bail because they specifically focus on the risk of destroying evidence, instead of whether the suspect is admitting guilt or not, he said.

“Judges had been hesitant in granting bail,” Takai said. “However the mindset of judges toward it has been changing.”

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested the 64-year-old Brazilian-born French auto executive on Nov. 19, on suspicion of underreporting his income.

The prosecutors later rearrested him on two additional counts of financial misconduct, including aggravated breach of trust for the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan during the global financial crisis in 2008.

The decision to grant him bail also comes amid growing outcry from critics, particularly outside the country, toward Japan’s legal system that they say is skewed in favor of accusers. Lawyers aren’t allowed to be present during interrogations, and suspects can be held for months before appearing in a trial, especially when they do not admit guilt.

Apparently fed up with Ghosn’s long detention, his family was ready to appeal to the United Nations in a bid to have him released, one of his lawyers said Monday.

“We have decided to appeal to those U.N. bodies dealing with fundamental rights compliance,” Francois Zimeray said, reading a statement issued by Ghosn’s family.

“Carlos Ghosn has now been held for over 100 days in Japan,” in a place “with medieval rules,” the statement said. The lawyer represents Ghosn’s wife, Carole — who in a recent interview with Paris Match magazine described her husband’s detention conditions as “deplorable” — and children Caroline, Maya, Nadine and Anthony.

Information from AFP-JIJI added

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