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Nissan's Ghosn crisis

Carlos Ghosn released on bail after 108 days in Tokyo jail

Ousted Nissan chairman barred from internet as condition of release

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention Center on March 6, following his release on 1 billion yen bail. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn walked out of a Tokyo jail on Wednesday after 108 days in detention, determined to refute allegations of financial misconduct leveled against him by Japanese prosecutors and Nissan Motor, the company he saved from collapse nearly two decades ago.

Ghosn's release on bail marks a rare move by Tokyo's District Court, which has demanded the former Nissan chief's movements be monitored by surveillance cameras and severely restricted. The court set bail at 1 billion yen ($8.93 million). Ghosn will now be free to step up the campaign to prove his innocence with public appearances.

"I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations," he said on the eve of his release in a statement.

Ghosn left the Tokyo Detention Center in a Suzuki vehicle, dressed in gray work clothes with reflective trim, and a blue cap. His face was covered by a white mask. Shortly before he left, a futon, blankets and suitcases were loaded into a van.

His release at a relatively early stage by Japanese standards -- even before the pretrial proceedings where each side presents its evidence to the judge -- was greeted with surprise by judicial experts. Only about 30% of Japanese criminal defendants were granted bail before the first trial in 2017, the most recent data available.

Bail approval at this point was "exceptional," said Yasuyuki Takai, a former prosecutor. "It is astonishing to see a defendant granted bail before the pretrial proceedings," said another former prosecutor, Yoji Ochiai.

Ghosn's new defense team, which was appointed last month, said it had proposed "very strict" conditions for his release to persuade the court to grant the request after two failed applications for bail.

Ghosn's new attorney, Junichiro Hironaka, who has won acquittals for clients in a number of high-profile cases, said a surveillance camera would be placed at the entrance to an apartment in Tokyo designated by the court. The former Nissan boss's computer and mobile phones will also be blocked from internet access. Footage from the surveillance camera will be submitted regularly to the court.

Nor will Ghosn be allowed to contact people who are involved in the case, although he may, with the court's permission, attend board meetings at Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and France's Renault. Ghosn remains a director at all three automakers.

As a final condition of his release, Ghosn's lawyers will hold his three passports -- Lebanese, Brazilian, and French -- to ensure he does not attempt to leave the country.

"We are glad that the court made the decision promptly," Hironaka said.

Lawyers said the conditions of Ghosn's release were unusually strict. "I have never heard of bail conditions [restricting] the use of computers," said Takai. "The court must have judged that Ghosn would not be able to tamper with evidence under the proposed conditions by cutting off [his] communications with others using technology," he said.

Ghosn's prolonged detention has sparked international criticism of Japan's judicial system. Some international media have accused Japan of engaging in "hostage justice," as defendants are rarely granted bail without a confession. Japanese prosecutors have a conviction rate of more than 99%.

Lawyers for Ghosn's family this week filed a dossier with a United Nations Human Rights Council working group claiming the detention had violated his rights.

Ghosn's arrest on Nov. 19 last year stunned many in the business community. The ousted Nissan chairman had been lionized for rescuing Nissan from near bankruptcy and successfully steering its long alliance with Renault, where he also served as chairman.

When interviewed by Nikkei in January, Ghosn insisted his arrest was the result of "plot and treason" by Nissan executives who wanted to prevent his plans to merge Renault and the Japanese carmaker.

Ghosn is charged with underreporting his salary and aggravated breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

Ghosn will now prepare for the pretrial proceedings. His bail makes "the preparation much faster, when working on every single record the defense team has to inspect," said Ochiai.

Nikkei staff writer Akihide Anzai in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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