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Ousted Nissan boss Ghosn leaves Tokyo jail, vows to fight 'meritless' charges

Key Points
  • The former titan of the global auto industry was released from the Tokyo Detention House on Wednesday.
  • Ghosn says he is innocent a committed to defending himself against "meritless" charges from Japan.
  • He faces charges of aggravated breach of trust and under-reporting his compensation at Nissan.
Carlos Ghosn, former chairman of Nissan Motor Co., center, sits in a taxi as he leaves his lawyer's office in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, March 6, 2018.
Takaaki Iwabu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ousted Nissan Motor boss Carlos Ghosn left prison on a $9 million 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 unrecognizable from his usual suited self as he left Tokyo Detention House, where he was confined to a small cell with no heating for more than 100 days.

The once-feted executive got into a small workvan parked just off the facility'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 even overnight.

Ghosn paid the 1 billion yen ($9 million) 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 chairman 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 under-reporting his salary by about $82 million 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 in a statement on Tuesday.

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The finance minister of France welcomed Ghosn's release, saying the executive would now be able to defend himself "with greater ease" Ghosn holds a French citizenship.

Building a defense

The release will allow Ghosn - the architect of Nissan's automaking partnership with Renault and Mitsubishi - to meet his new legal team more frequently and build a defence ahead of trial, which could be several months away.

Last month 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 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 percent.

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

At the time of his arrest, he had been seeking a full merger of the companies, an idea 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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Autos

Renault dismisses question marks over its alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi

Key Points
  • Renault's new CEO and chairman both claim the alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi is solid.
  • The arrest of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has thrown the partnership into doubt.