Change in tack by 'razor sharp' lawyer behind ex-Nissan chief Ghosn's success in getting bail, say analysts

Carlos Ghosn shook up his defence team last month and his new lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka (above) quickly filed for bail again, despite the unsuccessful past attempts.
Carlos Ghosn shook up his defence team last month and his new lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka (above) quickly filed for bail again, despite the unsuccessful past attempts.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - A "razor-sharp" new defence lawyer and a change in tack are behind a Tokyo court's surprise decision to grant former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn bail after two failed bids, experts say.

Ghosn shook up his defence team last month and his new lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka quickly filed for bail again, despite the unsuccessful past attempts.

He told a news conference on Monday (March 4) that he believed it was a "convincing" bail application with new elements that would finally win the day.

The court had previously rejected bail applications on the grounds Ghosn was a flight risk who might destroy evidence.

So Hironaka, known as "The Razor" for his mental sharpness, said he had proposed to limit Ghosn's contacts with the outside world and impose camera or computer surveillance on his movements.

Whatever the new request offered, it seemed to make the difference, with the court ruling in Ghosn's favour and forcing prosecutors to swiftly appeal the ruling.

"I think the content of the lawyer's application changed the situation," said Japanese lawyer Nobuo Gohara.

Ghosn's previous lead defence attorney was a former prosecutor who "always took the side of the prosecution and did not give good enough arguments to persuade the judge", said Gohara.

"This time, he had a lawyer who put all his effort into getting a decision from the judge," he added.

Another lawyer, Yasuyuki Takai, a former member of the prosecution unit now investigating Ghosn, also noted that a different judge heard the case this time.

"That counts as well, the way of looking at the case changes."

In a shock move - the latest surprise in a case full of twists and turns - the Tokyo District Court granted Ghosn bail on condition he pays one billion yen (S$12 million), stays in Japan and accepts surveillance measures.

The tycoon had been languishing in a detention centre in northern Tokyo since November 19 when he was arrested on suspicion on financial misconduct.

'EXTERNAL FACTORS'

Ghosn's lengthy detention - more than three months - has drawn sharp criticism internationally of the Japanese justice system, which allows courts and prosecutors to detain suspects almost indefinitely before trial.

His family have frequently slammed his detention conditions and even vowed to take his case to the United Nations Human Rights body.

The tycoon himself told AFP in an interview in January that such a lengthy detention would "not be normal in any other democracy of the world" and asked: "Why I am being punished before being found guilty?"

However, analysts said that the court had not bowed before international criticism of Japan and its so-called "hostage justice" system.

"The court's decision was not influenced by external factors, but it has previously tended to bend too much to the opinion of the prosecutors," said Gohara.

"This time it was forced to take a good decision taking into account the arguments of the defence," he told AFP.

Takao Nakayama, professor of criminal law at Tokyo's Chuo University and a former judge, dismissed the idea international criticism could have played a part.

"That is never the case ... Judges would never consider it when they make decisions," he told AFP.

However, Takai noted that the high-profile case of Ghosn would undoubtedly create a legal precedent and the court was probably mindful of this in its decision.

"If it does not do the same thing in later cases, some people will denounce special treatment for Ghosn and the court will be criticised," said Takai.