Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn left a Tokyo jail on Wednesday disguised in workman’s clothes and a face mask – almost unrecognisable as the sharp-suited car industry titan arrested more than three months ago.
The ousted boss who stands accused of hiding tens of millions of dollars of income and using a network of lavish company-funded homes around the world almost fooled the massed ranks of media outside a detention centre that has housed him since 19 November.
Dressed in a dark blue cap and work jacket to blend in with his entourage of police officers, Mr Ghosn slipped past photographers and into an unassuming grey Suzuki minivan.
As he drove off to his Tokyo residence, he was pursued overhead by a Japanese television crew. While the exit itself was low key, it did not come cheap with Mr Ghosn posting 1bn yen bail (£7m) – one of the highest ever in Japan.
To secure bail, he promised he would remain in Tokyo, surrendered his passport to his lawyer and agreed to set up cameras at the entrances and exits to his home.
He is also prohibited from using the internet, sending and receiving text messages or communicating with parties involved in his case. He is permitted computer access only at his lawyer’s office.
Perhaps more dauntingly, Mr Ghosn, architect of the triple alliance of Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault, still faces a criminal justice system with a conviction rate of 99.9 per cent.
While Mr Ghosn will no doubt welcome his release after 100 days confined to a small, unheated cell, his current conditions mark a startling change of fortunes for a multimillionaire who allegedly used €50,000 (£43,000) of Renault sponsorship to help fund a lavish Marie Antoinette-themed wedding to his second wife in 2016.
To try to secure an acquittal, Mr Ghosn last month hired one of Japan’s most high-profile lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, nicknamed “The Razor”, for his success at winning in several high-profile cases.
He faces charges of aggravated breach of trust and under-reporting his compensation by about $82m (£62m) at Nissan for nearly a decade. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in jail.
“I am innocent and totally committed to vigorously defending myself in a fair trial against these meritless and unsubstantiated accusations,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Once the darling of the global motor industry, hailed with restoring Renault to good fortune in the Nineties, Mr Ghosn faces a string of charges relating to his reporting of income and use of company perks.
Despite his hefty pay packet, Mr Ghosn earned the nickname “Le Cost Killer” during his time at Renault and brought a similar style to Nissan in 1999. He was credited with leading the company’s turnaround after being appointed chief executive in 2001, which he achieved by slashing spending, closing down factories and axeing tens of thousands of jobs.
Mr Ghosn, who was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, previously enjoyed an almost heroic status in Japan – the tale of his efforts to bring Nissan back into profit was made into a bestselling manga (Japanese comic book).
Meanwhile, as leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Mr Ghosn headed up the world’s largest car group (by sales).
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