Tokyo: A Tokyo court on Tuesday granted ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn bail in a shock decision that could see the auto tycoon freed after more than three months of detention.
The court set the bail at one billion yen (USD 9 million), but prosecutors are likely to appeal the decision and could even file additional allegations against Ghosn to keep him from leaving detention.
It was the latest twist in a case that has kept Japan and the business world gripped since the tycoon's shock arrest on November 19 over suspicions of financial misconduct.
The court has previously said Ghosn's continued detention was justified because he posed a flight risk and could seek to tamper with evidence. Ghosn and his lawyers have argued that neither of those is the case, and he even offered to wear a tracking bracelet and hire guards to monitor his whereabouts, pledging to stay in Japan.
The surprise decision came after Ghosn's new lead defence lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters he had filed a "convincing" application for bail that contained fresh elements.
Hironaka, who has a reputation for securing acquittals for high-profile clients in a country where almost all court cases end in conviction, offered greater surveillance of Ghosn and a limit on his electronic communications to win bail. But the court had previously shown no inclination to end the lengthy pre-trial detention, which has drawn some criticism internationally and from rights groups.
Prosecutors have defended his detention while they investigate three charges of financial misconduct, two involving alleged under-reporting of his salary and a third over a complex scheme in which Ghosn allegedly sought to transfer his losses to Nissan's books.
And they are likely to appeal the bail decision, though the courts have previously ruled against the prosecutors when they sought to extend Ghosn's detention as allegations against him were being investigated.
Under Japanese law, prosecutors can hold a suspect for up to 22 days while they investigate an allegation, and then can apply for repeated one-month stretches of pre-trial detention for each charge that is eventually levelled.
That means prosecutors could effectively prevent Ghosn from leaving detention despite today's bail decision if they level new allegations against him, starting the 22-day detention clock. On Monday, Ghosn's family said in a statement they would appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The family slammed Japan for its "mediaeval rules", in a statement read out by a lawyer representing Ghosn's wife Carole, who has previously described her husband's detention conditions as "deplorable".
The tycoon has denied all the allegations against him, and in an interview with AFP he slammed his continued detention.
"Why am I being punished before being found guilty?" Ghosn asked, speaking to AFP and the Les Echos daily in January from his detention centre. The refusal to grant him bail "would not be normal in any other democracy", he said.
Ghosn's new lawyer Hironaka, who has earned the nickname "the acquitter" for his court record and the "razor" for his mental sharpness, vowed a "completely new legal strategy" to obtain his client's release. Hironaka has also taken aim at Nissan, raising questions as to why the Japanese firm brought a case to prosecutors over incidents that allegedly took place more than 10 years ago.
A towering figure once revered in Japan for turning around Nissan's fortunes, Ghosn also forged a successful alliance between Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and France's Renault.
But his attempts to deepen the alliance caused resentment in some quarters, and Ghosn has claimed the allegations against him are part of a "plot" by opponents of greater integration between the three firms.
Given the number of people involved in the complex case and their wide geographical spread, Hironaka said the case would run over a "very long time span". However, he said prosecutors had begun handing over some of their evidence prior to a potential trial....