Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn emerged from his Tokyo detention centre in the late hours of Thursday after accepting bail of $4.5 million under strict conditions including restrictions on seeing his wife.
The 65-year-old tycoon faces four charges of financial misconduct ranging from concealing part of his salary from shareholders to syphoning off Nissan funds for his personal use.
His case has captivated Japan and the business community with its multiple twists and turns, as well as shone a spotlight on the Japanese justice system which critics say is overly harsh.
Ghosn exited the Kosuge Detention Centre in northern Tokyo around 10:30pm (1330 GMT) after spending 21 days answering questions from authorities over allegations he creamed off $5 million in Nissan funds for personal ends.
Unlike his previous departure, when he was dressed bizarrely in a Japanese workman’s outfit with cap and facemask, Ghosn this time strode confidently out dressed in a dark suit without tie.
Under the conditions of his bail, Ghosn must stay in Japan and must live in a court-appointed residence with cameras to monitor his movements amid fears he might try to destroy evidence.
His lead defence lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said the conditions also included an “approval system” to see his wife Carole, whom prosecutors believe has made contact with people involved in the case.
“If the court approves it, she will be able to meet him,” he said.
In a statement three hours after his release, Ghosn slammed this condition as an “outrage”.
“No person should ever be indefinitely held in solitary confinement for the purpose of being forced into making a confession. But restricting communications and contact between my wife and me is cruel and unnecessary,” he said.
– ‘Baseless accusations’ –
Ghosn denies all the charges, with a spokesperson for the executive saying on Monday he would “vigorously defend himself against these baseless accusations and fully expects to be vindicated”.
The spokesperson said Ghosn was being detained “under cruel and unjust conditions, in violation of his human rights, in an effort by prosecutors to coerce a confession from him”.
On Monday, he was hit with what experts have described as the most serious charges yet as prosecutors accused him of syphoning off $5 million of Nissan cash transferred from the company to a dealership in Oman.
He also faces two charges of deferring some $80 million of his salary and hiding this in official documents to shareholders, and seeking to shift personal investment losses to the firm during the 2008 financial crisis.
A Nissan spokesman said in a statement that the company’s “internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct”.
“Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge,” he added.
This was the second time Ghosn has been granted bail after posting $9 million in March to win his freedom.
Last time he left the detention centre, he was dressed in a cap, face mask and workman’s uniform in an apparent attempt to evade dozens of journalists from around the world hoping to snap a picture of the fallen tycoon.
The bizarre stunt was cooked up by one of his lawyers, Takashi Takano, who later apologised for “tainting” the reputation of his client, who usually appears in public in sharp suits.
– ‘Tell the truth’ –
Ghosn was preparing to hold a much-anticipated news conference to “tell the truth” about his case but he was re-arrested shortly beforehand to face questioning about the alleged $5 million embezzlement.
Clearly aware he was about to return to custody, Ghosn pre-recorded a video in which he accused “backstabbing” Nissan executives of a “plot” against him, as they feared closer ties with French partner Renault.
Unless re-arrested over further allegations, Ghosn will be free to organise his defence ahead of a possible trial that is likely to take months to prepare.
Hironaka has told reporters that a trial as early as the autumn was “not possible for various reasons”.
His lawyers have demanded he be tried separately from Nissan, which also faces charges for submitting the suspect financial documents, and have voiced fears he will not receive a fair trial.
The dramatic case has thrown international attention onto the Japanese justice system, derided by critics as “hostage justice” as it allows prolonged detention and relies heavily on suspects’ confessions.
Deputy prosecutor Shin Kukimoto at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office told AFP it was “extremely regrettable that (the court) approved his bail even as it recognised that the accused had planned to work with people related to the case”.
The court has also “recognised there was a fear over destroying evidence of the crime”, Kukimoto added.