Business

Ousted Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn released from jail after 108 days of detention, facing uncertain future

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

Ousted Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn was released on bail Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo, ending 108 days of detention that has elicited a global outcry over his treatment and the loss of his posts at three of the most well-known global automakers.

The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday confirmed his ¥1 billion bail payment via bank transfer after it rejected a last-ditch effort by prosecutors to reverse the court’s decision on Tuesday to grant his release.

But even if he ultimately walks free, restoring his reputation, particularly after a trial that could stretch on for months or even years, will be another matter and the alliance — Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Renault SA — is unlikely to take him back, with Renault’s CEO reportedly saying he won’t be reappointed to the automaker’s board.

The court OK’d Ghosn’s bail after previously turning down similar applications in January.

Ghosn restructured his legal team in mid-February, appointing attorneys including Junichiro Hironaka, who is known for winning not-guilty verdicts in some of the most high-profile cases in the country, earning him the nickname “Razor” for his shrewdness.

It was not immediately clear how Ghosn will spend his days after leaving jail.

He is prohibited from contacting Nissan officials linked to his case as part of the deal for his release, including his close aide Greg Kelly, who was also arrested on Nov. 19 and had already been released on bail.

Experts credited the legal strategies crafted under Hironaka’s team with securing his conditional freedom. Hironaka said his team clarified specific measures that would be taken to significantly curb the risk of Ghosn tampering with or destroying evidence while out on bail.

Other measures agreed to include the restriction of access to computers and phones, as well as a ban on overseas travel. Surveillance cameras will also be set up at his Tokyo residence.

Ghosn appeared to be surprised over the conditions, Hironaka said Tuesday evening.

“He looked displeased,” he said, adding that his client, though, was happy with the decision itself.

The bail agreement does allow Ghosn to travel inside the country but not for more than three days at a time. And if he wants to use a computer, he needs to do so at a lawyer’s office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Hironaka reportedly said.

The French-Brazilian auto executive’s prolonged detention has been the subject of criticism particularly from overseas.

Under Japan’s legal system, which critics say is skewed in favor of prosecutors, lawyers aren’t allowed to be present during interrogations. And suspects can also be held for months before having to appear before a court, especially when they do not admit guilt.

Hironaka reportedly said that if Ghosn was granted bail by the court, he could attend a Nissan board meeting since he hasn’t been dismissed as a director. He was, though, removed as chairman shortly after his arrest.

The companies that have ousted Ghosn have distanced themselves from him.

Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s CEO, downplayed the significance of his release on bail, telling reporters Wednesday morning it will not affect the company’s operation.

“I am not in the position to say whether he is guilty or not guilty,” Saikawa said.

Ghosn, who was arrested on Nov. 19 at Haneda airport in Tokyo, is accused of falsifying his remuneration for years. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office special investigation team later re-arrested him, alleging that Ghosn engaged in aggravated breach of trust for the alleged transfer of private investment losses to Nissan during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Ghosn has denied all of the allegations, which were brought as a result of an internal investigation by Nissan.

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