March 5, 2019 / 3:53 AM / 2 months ago

Ousted Nissan boss Ghosn to leave prison after court rejects prosecutors' appeal

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese court on Tuesday rejected a last-minute attempt by prosecutors to keep former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn in prison, ruling that the once-feted executive could be released on $8.9 million bail after more than 100 days in detention.

FILE PHOTO: Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, poses after the Renault's 2015 annual results presentation at their headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France, February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

The Tokyo District Court, which had earlier granted Ghosn bail, said it had rejected an appeal by prosecutors who had sought to keep him in prison, pending his trial for financial misconduct.

The decision paves the way for Ghosn’s release as early as Wednesday and marks a victory for his new legal team, brought in last month and spearheaded by a lawyer known as “the Razor” for his success in several high-profile cases.

On what was Ghosn’s third bail request, the court accepted defense lawyers’ assurances that he would submit to extensive surveillance.

The release would allow Ghosn - the architect of Nissan’s automaking partnership with France’s Renault and one of the industry’s most celebrated executives - to meet his lawyers frequently and build a defense ahead of his trial.

Ghosn faces charges of aggravated breach of trust and under-reporting his compensation to the tune of $82 million at Nissan for nearly a decade.

If convicted on all the charges, he faces up to a decade in jail. The ex-chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors has denied wrongdoing and late on Tuesday reiterated his position.

“I am extremely grateful for my family and friends who have stood by me throughout this terrible ordeal,” Ghosn said in a statement.

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

Nissan declined to comment on the bail decision, which comes a day after the head of Ghosn’s new legal team said he was optimistic the executive would be released with a promise to submit to surveillance.

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

Public opinion is likely to have played a role in the court’s bail decision, said Shin Ushijima, a former prosecutor and lawyer.

“The court was partly influenced by the opinion of the entire world,” Ushijima said. “People in general thought (the detention period) is too long. This will change Japan’s criminal procedures.”

$9 MLN BAIL

There was a heavy media presence earlier on Tuesday outside the Tokyo detention center where Ghosn is being held, with throngs of reporters setting up ladders to gain a clear view over the tall fence. A helicopter briefly buzzed overhead.

While Ghosn’s 1 billion yen ($9 million) bail would rank among the highest in Japan, it is half the amount paid in 2005 by Mitsuru Asada, a businessman who was later convicted of defrauding the government through a beef buyback program.

Ghosn, who turns 65 on Saturday, has spent more than 100 days in a 4.8 square meter (52 sq ft) cell. In his only court appearance, in January, he said he looked forward to his trial to “finally have the opportunity to defend myself”.

In an interview later with Japan’s Nikkei newspaper, Ghosn said that Nissan executives opposed to his plans for closer ties with Renault were behind the allegations against him.

The appointment last month of lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, who earned his nickname for his combative style, was widely seen as a move to adopt a more aggressive legal strategy with Ghosn’s defense.

Hironaka has argued that the allegations should have been resolved as an internal company matter and blasted the judicial system for keeping his client in jail.

Ghosn’s France-based lawyers on Monday said that they had complained to the United Nations that their client’s rights had been violated during his detention in Japan.

Though the granting of bail represents a significant development, Ghosn still faces a criminal justice system in which only three of every 100 defendants who plead not guilty are acquitted.

There is also no plea-bargaining mechanism that would allow Ghosn to agree to lesser charges for a lighter sentence.

Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Tim Kelly in Tokyo and Mike Spector in New York; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by David Evans and David Goodman

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