Carlos Ghosn was released from jail on Wednesday after 108 days, ending his controversial imprisonment and setting the stage for Japan’s biggest legal clash in decades.
Mr Ghosn left the Tokyo Detention Center disguised as a construction worker, wearing a blue cap, glasses, a paper mask and high-visibility yellow vest after posting ¥1bn ($9m) in bail.
The former Nissan chairman’s release was broadcast live on Japanese television, as he was driven away in a work van labelled Nakamura Kogyo, or Nakamura Industries, pursued by journalists on motorcycles and helicopters.
After an hour-long drive, TV footage showed Mr Ghosn, with grey thinning hair, arriving at his lawyer’s office in the centre of Tokyo. Having removed his construction clothing in favour of a dark sweater, Mr Ghosn smiled as his lawyer slapped him on the shoulder.
Mr Ghosn was forced to accept unprecedented restrictions as a condition of his bail. In stark contrast with a luxury lifestyle that included criss-crossing the globe in a private corporate jet and making use of numerous company-owned residences, he will be restricted for much of his day to a residence in Tokyo where the entrance will be under 24-hour camera surveillance.
Among the constraints facing Mr Ghosn, who has continued to assert his innocence and refused to confess, is a ban on the use of any internet-enabled mobile phone or computer to prevent him from tampering with evidence.
As in a previous bail application, Mr Ghosn agreed to surrender all three of his three passports — French, Brazilian and Lebanese — to his lawyer to ensure he cannot flee Japan.
Legal experts said the rare decision by the Tokyo court to grant bail had been influenced by international condemnation from human rights groups of a justice system that prolongs the detention of defendants who maintain their innocence and do not confess.
“The bail conditions themselves are not really effective in practical terms, so it does seem like the court was affected by outside pressure,” said Norio Munakata, a lawyer and former prosecutor. “Not everyone is as famous as Mr Ghosn and this is a special case.”
The experts also believe that the trial will put a system with a 99 per cent conviction rate under the microscope. Mr Ghosn has assembled a “dream team” of leading lawyers who have a record of challenging it.
Takashi Takano, one Mr Ghosn’s lawyers, warned in a blog post before joining his defence team, that Japan would be isolated if it did not rethink the process. “Now is the time for a drastic reform. If it becomes widely known that our justice system is a country risk, all the money, technology and talent will leave this country,” he said.
In the hours ahead of his release, Mr Ghosn received visits from family members including his wife, Carole, and one of his three daughters. As on previous visits, the family members were driven to see Mr Ghosn in a car owned by the French embassy.
In a statement after the bail decision on Tuesday, Mr Ghosn, who recently resigned as chief executive of France’s Renault, said he was “totally committed to vigorously defending” himself against “meritless and unsubstantiated accusations”.
Following his November 19 arrest at Haneda airport, Mr Ghosn was charged for understating his pay at Nissan and using a Nissan subsidiary to make payments to a Saudi friend who allegedly helped to address his personal trading losses in the wake of the global financial crisis.