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Ghosn’s Release on Bail Delayed After Tokyo Prosecutors Appeal

Junichiro Hironaka, former Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn's Chief Defense Lawyer, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, Japan, 04 March 2019. Hironaka has won high-profile cases and is known as Kamisori in Japanese or the razor. Tokyo prosecutors charged former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn for aggravated breach of trust on 11 January 2019 after being detained in November 2018. The former Nissan and Renault chairman is accused by Japanese authorities of under-reporting his income by tens of millions of dollars. EPA-EFE/KIMIMASA MAYAMA

Carlos Ghosn finally won Japanese court approval for bail after more than 100 days in jail, but his release remains in doubt after prosecutors appealed the decision.

In a day of twists and turns for the embattled former Nissan Motor Co. chairman, a Tokyo court authorized Ghosn’s release on bail of 1 billion yen ($8.9 million), only for prosecutors to challenge the ruling within hours. That will probably keep him locked up at least until Wednesday — and longer if the appeal is successful.

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. Ghosn — accused of aggravated breach of trust and filing false statements to regulators regarding about $80 million in deferred income during his time as the automaker’s chairman — could face a decade in prison if convicted.

But the prosecution has pushed back on Ghosn gaining his freedom before, warding off two previous bail attempts. Even if their latest appeal fails, prosecutors can arrest Ghosn on new charges to ensure he stays incarcerated.

At the very least, the prosecutors’ appeal means Ghosn likely won’t be released Tuesday, said Stephen Givens, a law professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. Ghosn’s lawyers said they won’t post his bail unless the prosecutors’ appeal is rejected, and any release likely would happen Wednesday or later, Kyodo reported.

To get his bail application approved, Ghosn agreed to stay in Japan, have cameras set up in his house and not contact people outside.

“We are very glad our bail request has been approved,” Ghosn’s lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said earlier by phone. “The bail conditions are severe, but we will make sure to comply with them.”

Ghosn’s arrest and imprisonment rocked the world’s biggest auto alliance — comprising Nissan, Renault SA and 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.

Nissan reduced its full-year earnings forecast after its third-quarter profit missed analysts’ estimates, and the company’s debt rating was cut by S&P Global Ratings to A- from A.

Ghosn, the glue binding the alliance together since he took command in the 1990s, was the chairman of all three companies until he was removed 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, and it has been criticized for its heavy reliance on defendants’ confessions, which often are made without a lawyer being 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. Ghosn’s downfall, as sudden as it was unexpected, has roiled the carmaker’s two-decade alliance with France’s Renault, which he dominated as chairman of both companies and of the entity that governs their partnership.

“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 Ghosn’s 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 the probe at the French carmaker so far hasn’t uncovered any governance issues beyond the “little story” of the Versailles events. He 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.

Authorities in Japan are investigating Ghosn’s business dealings globally, including in the Middle East and Europe.

Nissan approved arrangements for the purchase of several homes used by Ghosn, including those in Brazil and Lebanon, he said in a January interview with Japan’s Nikkei newspaper. DM

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