TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan Motor chairman facing charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan, was released on bail on Wednesday after being held in a Tokyo jail since late November.
A judge approved Mr. Ghosn’s release on bail of 1 billion yen, or almost $9 million, on Tuesday, and rejected an appeal by prosecutors to keep him detained until trial. Mr. Ghosn paid in cash on Wednesday and walked out surrounded by police guards in the late afternoon.
Mr. Ghosn, who headed Nissan and was the architect of its alliance with Mitsubishi Motors of Japan and Renault of France, has been accused of underreporting his compensation and shifting personal losses to Nissan. He has denied the charges.
Since his arrest in Japan on Nov. 19, he has been removed as chairman of all three companies. He does, however, remain on their boards.
A man wearing a grayish jumpsuit, sky-blue cap and surgical mask, whom the Japanese news media identified as Mr. Ghosn, emerged from the detention center around 4:30 p.m. surrounded by police officers. The outfit, which looked like a crossing guard’s uniform, allowed him to sneak past a crowd of Japanese and foreign reporters who had been waiting hours for him to appear.
After a moment’s hesitation, Mr. Ghosn got into a small van, while the police loaded luggage and bedding into a larger black van that was the focus of reporters’ attention.
It has been over three months since Mr. Ghosn, who turns 65 on Saturday, was taken away by prosecutors after his corporate jet touched down at a Tokyo airport.
Much of the intervening time has been spent in a pitched battle for his freedom.
Japanese prosecutors have gone to unusual lengths to keep him in detention. After a court denied a request to extend his detention in mid-December, prosecutors rearrested him on a new set of charges connected to personal losses he incurred during the 2008 financial crisis and reportedly transferred to Nissan.
A judge approved the request by Mr. Ghosn’s new legal team at midday, but the decision was immediately appealed by prosecutors and a final ruling did not come until late in the evening.
In exchange for his freedom, Mr. Ghosn is required to remain in Japan and accept other conditions imposed by the court to prevent him from tampering with evidence or fleeing. The Japanese news media has reported that those conditions include giving his passports to his lawyers, residing in Tokyo, having no contact with others involved in the case, being monitored by security cameras at home and limiting his use of phones and personal computers.
As Mr. Ghosn’s case goes to trial, prosecutors may face steeper odds than usual. Typically, Japanese prosecutors have a 99 percent conviction rate of indicted defendants. But with a new lawyer, and the intense international attention on some of the flaws in the Japanese criminal justice system, “it’s increasingly looking like it’s not a slam dunk,” said Stephen Givens, an American corporate lawyer in Tokyo.
Mr. Ghosn’s decision to deny the charges against him can be a somewhat risky position to take in the Japanese justice system. The authorities in the country are notorious for using confessions, sometimes extracted under duress, to get convictions, and they are not used to being thwarted: In 2017, 88 percent of those who went to trial confessed, according to data maintained by Japan’s Supreme Court.
Receiving bail is itself unusual in Japan, but even more so for those who refuse to acknowledge guilt. Only around 25 percent of defendants in the country are released before trial. Of those who maintain their innocence, only about one in 13 walk free, according to data from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
That makes Mr. Ghosn’s release unexpected, said Akira Kitani, a former judge now working as a defense attorney.
“Compared to the other cases in the past, this is definitely quick,” he said, noting that international attention on Mr. Ghosn’s case may have influenced the judge’s decision to release him.
Mr. Ghosn’s new lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, is known to advocate legal changes in the country. In two news conferences leading up to Mr. Ghosn’s release, he repeatedly emphasized the negative impact the former Nissan chairman’s long detention had had on perceptions of Japan abroad, saying that he hoped the case would drive the country to re-examine some of its harsh practices.
“They will never, ever say that they granted bail because of the influence of foreign media,” Mr. Kitani said, but given the intense spotlight the case has put on Japan’s legal system, “they might have thought somewhere in their mind that they couldn’t detain him in this way forever.”
Norio Munakata, a former prosecutor, said that in the past, “the court always listened to the prosecutors’ voice, but now their magic wand doesn’t work anymore.”
Because of globalization, “they have to respect human rights, and may have thought that long-term detention wasn’t good,” he added. “They may start thinking about global standards.”