(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 12, 2018 French Renault group CEO and chairman of Japan’s Nissan Motor CO. Ltd and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Carlos Ghosn poses during a photo session at the Renault headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt. – Renault boss Carlos Ghosn has handed in his resignation, France’s economy minister said on January 24, 2019 ahead of a board meeting at which the French car maker is to appoint his successor. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)
Agence France-Presse

Former auto industry titan Carlos Ghosn moved a step closer to freedom Tuesday as a Tokyo court unexpectedly granted him bail after more than three months in 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 set bail at one billion yen ($9 million), but prosecutors are likely to appeal the decision and could even file additional allegations against the 64-year-old to keep him from leaving detention.

Under his bail terms, Ghosn is banned from leaving Japan and must adhere to conditions aimed at preventing him from fleeing or destroying evidence.

The shock decision came a day 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.

The court has previously said Ghosn’s continued detention was justified because he posed a flight risk and could seek to tamper with evidence. It had already rejected two official bail bids and other attempts to win freedom.

However, his prolonged stay behind bars has come under fire internationally and from rights groups.

Speaking to AFP and French daily Les Echos in January — his only interview with foreign media so far — Ghosn himself said that his continued detention “would not be normal in any other democracy”.

“Why am I being punished before being found guilty?” Ghosn asked.

The former head of Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Renault faces three charges — 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.

Further claims of financial misconduct have been levelled against him and prosecutors may yet slap him with additional allegations to keep him in detention.

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 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.

Ghosn has denied all the allegations against him.

In a shake-up of his legal team last month, Ghosn replaced a former prosecutor known as “the breaker” with Hironaka, who has earned the nickname “the acquitter” for his court record and the “razor” for his mental sharpness.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Hironaka vowed a “completely new legal strategy” to obtain his client’s release.

The lawyer also took 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.

Nissan declined to comment on the bail decision, saying it was a matter for courts and prosecutors.

However, it said that an internal probe had “uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct” and that “further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge”.

“The company’s focus is firmly on addressing weaknesses in governance that failed to prevent this misconduct,” it added in a statement.

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