TOKYO – Carlos Ghosn was freed on Wednesday after what he called a “terrible ordeal” of 108 days behind bars, leaving a Tokyo jail disguised as a workman in a blue cap.
The former Nissan Motor Co. chairman, who must stay in Japan after his release on nearly $9 million in bail, will live in a court-approved residence in Tokyo and prepare for a trial that could begin late this year.
At about 4:30 p.m. local time, Ghosn left the Tokyo Detention House wearing a mask often used by Japanese who have a cold, as well as a uniform with reflective strips like those used by highway workers. He climbed into a small Suzuki van, which drove out of the jail gates and onto the streets of Tokyo, where it was tracked by news helicopters.
Ghosn later got out of the van in central Tokyo to go to his lawyer’s office, having shed his disguise and looking thinner than before his arrest but in generally good health, according to footage aired on Nippon TV.
Ghosn’s wife, Carole, who arrived at the jail shortly before his release, left in a separate vehicle belonging to the French Embassy. Earlier, jail staff had loaded a Toyota van with an orange pillow, sheets and a mattress apparently used by Ghosn in jail.
The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday approved Ghosn’s release after two previous bail requests were rejected. The decision came thanks to a new high-profile team of lawyers with significant defense experience and international criticism about Japan’s treatment of criminal defendants.
Under the terms of his release, Ghosn cannot communicate with people overseas via phone or computer.
His release marks the end of a chapter in a case that began with his surprise arrest on Nov. 19 shortly after his private jet arrived in Tokyo. Unbeknownst to Ghosn, Nissan executives and Tokyo prosecutors had been investigating him for months over allegations of financial misconduct.
The weeks following the arrest marked a brutal turnabout for the executive accustomed to roaming the world as the head of the alliance linking Nissan, Renault SA of France and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan. Living in a small cell at the Tokyo Detention House, he underwent hours of interrogation each day without his lawyer present. At his only public appearance during his detention, at a court hearing on Jan. 8, he looked considerably thinner and his previously black hair was partly gray.
Ghosn lost his post as Nissan chairman three days after his arrest, and Mitsubishi also took away his chairman’s title. In late January, Ghosn resigned as chairman and chief executive of Renault, his last executive posts. He remains a director at Nissan, but the company plans to strip him of that position as well in April.
Now that he is confined to Japan and no longer an auto executive, Ghosn is likely to spend the coming months preparing for his trial and making a public case for his innocence.
He kicked off the campaign with a statement Tuesday in which he thanked family and friends “who have stood by me throughout this terrible ordeal” and said he was “totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations.”
Prosecutors have charged Ghosn with violating two Japanese laws, one governing corporate financial disclosures and the other barring corporate executives from abusing their positions for personal gain.
In the first category, prosecutors say Ghosn failed to include more than $80 million in compensation he was due after retirement in Nissan financial statements for eight fiscal years ending March 2018. The case hinges on whether the money was promised to Ghosn and fixed in each of those eight years – as prosecutors will seek to show – or was merely discussed in a hypothetical way, as Ghosn contends.
The second set of charges involves a personal derivatives contract that Ghosn says he made in the mid-2000s to protect himself against a fall in the Japanese yen, since he was paid at Nissan in yen but had expenses in dollars.
When the yen rose during the 2008 global financial crisis, exposing him to possible losses, Ghosn says the company temporarily took his side of the contract under an arrangement that ensured any realized losses would be borne by Ghosn. Prosecutors allege that the arrangement, although temporary, amounted to Ghosn making the company take on potential risks that he should have borne personally.
Ghosn later took the contract back onto his personal books with help from a Saudi businessman whose company received $14.7 million in Nissan payments between 2009 and 2012. Prosecutors say Ghosn was in effect using Nissan money for his personal benefit, while Ghosn says the money that went to his Saudi friend’s company was for legitimate Nissan business purposes.
Lawyers not involved in the case said it would be easier for Ghosn to prepare a defense now that he can freely meet with his lawyers and review documents about transactions that in some cases took place more than a decade ago.
“If he remains detained, the lawyers have to print out documents, go to the detention house and get approval to provide the papers to discuss with him. It’s very time consuming,” said Yoji Ochiai, a former prosecutor now in private practice.