Carlos Ghosn, the auto industry luminary locked up since November, may be released on bail as soon as Wednesday after a Tokyo court rejected a prosecution attempt to keep him behind bars.
Late on Tuesday night in Japan, the court refused the appeal against Ghosn's release on a 1 billion-yen ($8.9 million) bond. The former Nissan Motor Co. chairman could be out within hours, as long as the bail is paid and authorities don't seek to extend his detention by arresting him on new charges.
Getting out on bail would allow Ghosn to spend more time with his defense team and prepare for a trial that's still likely months away. His surprise arrest and imprisonment on allegations of financial misdeeds roiled the two-decade auto alliance between Nissan and Renault SA and cast a harsh light on aspects of Japan's legal system.
"I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations," Ghosn said in a statement.
Ghosn -- accused of aggravated breach of trust and filing false statements to regulators regarding about $80 million in deferred income during his time as Nissan's chairman -- could face a decade in prison if convicted. The prosecution has pushed back on his efforts to win freedom before, warding off two previous bail attempts.
"If he's able to get out, he's able to collect information and it will be easier to communicate with his lawyers and work out a defense strategy," said Nobuko Otsuki, a Tokyo-based defense lawyer not connected to the case. "It would definitely be advantageous for the defense."
To win approval of his bail application, Ghosn agreed to stay in Japan, among other restrictions. "The bail conditions are severe, but we will make sure to comply with them," Ghosn's lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said earlier by phone.
Ghosn's arrest rocked the world's biggest auto alliance -- which also includes Mitsubishi Motors Corp. -- at a time when the industry globally is wrestling with an array of challenges, from slowing sales in key markets such as the U.S. and China to long-term technological change that requires massive investment.
Long the glue binding the partnership together, Ghosn was the chairman of all three companies, CEO of Renault and head of the alliance until after his arrest. In prison, Ghosn has endured frequent interrogation by prosecutors and had only limited contact with his legal team and family. The case has put Japan's justice system under a spotlight, leading to criticism of its reliance on defendants' confessions, which often are made without a lawyer present.
Hironaka previously said the case raises questions about the fairness of Japan's legal system, repeating a statement by the International Federation for Human Rights. He also has suggested the arrest was the result of a conspiracy inside the automaker, though he didn't name any Nissan officials.
"Nissan does not have any role in decisions made by courts or prosecutors, and is therefore not in a position to offer a comment," Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for the carmaker, said in an emailed statement.
Renault and Nissan are reviewing their finances and the pay of top managers in the wake of the arrest, and began a joint audit of the Dutch company that oversees their partnership. The probes have already shone a light on some controversial practices from Ghosn's tenure at Renault, including celebrations at the Versailles palace outside Paris.
Thierry Bollore, who replaced Ghosn as Renault CEO in January, told Bloomberg Television in Geneva on Tuesday that so far the French carmaker's probe hasn't uncovered any governance issues beyond the "little story" of the Versailles events. He said he expects the review will be completed this month, and declined to comment on Ghosn's effort to win bail.
Confronting a Japanese legal system with a 99 percent conviction rate, Ghosn last month replaced a defense team led by former local prosecutor Motonari Otsuru with one overseen by Hironaka, who is known for aggressive tactics defending high-profile clients such as a former senior bureaucrat accused of corruption.
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