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Japanese court rejects request to extend Ghosn's detention

Eric Piermont, AFP | In this file photo taken on September 15, 2017, Renault-Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn looks on as he addresses a press conference in Paris to present the Renault Nissan group strategy.

Auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn could soon be freed on bail after a Japanese court Thursday rejected prosecutors' request to extend his detention, in a move nearly as unexpected as his sudden arrest.

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The 64-year-old car boss has been in a Japanese detention centre since his arrest on November 19 for alleged financial misconduct sent shockwaves through the business world.

But in another stunning development, the Tokyo District Court said prosecutors had filed a bid to extend his detention on December 20, but it was "rejected".

This paved the way for a potential release as early as Friday, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Ghosn's lawyers are expected to request bail while prosecutors will appeal the court decision, according to local news agency Jiji Press.

Prosecutors had formally charged him on December 10 with financial misconduct for allegedly under-declaring his income by some five billion yen ($44 million) between 2010 and 2015.

At the same time, they re-arrested him on suspicion of also under-reporting his income by a further four billion yen over the past three years. He has not formally been charged over this allegation.

Ghosn's detention threw the spotlight on the Japanese legal system where suspects can be held for long periods.

He is being held in a one-man cell in a detention centre in northern Tokyo measuring just three tatami mats -- around five square metres (54 square feet) -- a far cry from the lavish lifestyle that previously attracted criticism.

Ghosn has told embassy visitors he is being well treated but has complained of the winter cold and the rice-based food.

Nevertheless, sources at French car giant Renault describe his frame of mind as "combative" as he fights the charges against him.

'Personal effects'

In addition to charges against Ghosn and his right-hand man Greg Kelly, prosecutors had also indicted Nissan itself, as the company submitted the official documents that under-reported the income.

Ghosn's arrest on November 19 unleashed a firestorm through the three-way car alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors -- which together sold more vehicles than any other group last year.

Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors promptly sacked the tycoon as chairman but Renault kept him on and appointed an interim boss as it waited to assess the legal procedures against him.

On Monday, Nissan failed to agree a replacement as chairman amid growing tensions with the French firm.

Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan but the Japanese firm now makes more money, leading to rifts within the tie-up that Ghosn forged and was credited with holding together.

A newly formed committee looking into governance at Nissan is to report its findings by March, but the decision on a new chairman could potentially stretch beyond that, said current CEO Hiroto Saikawa.

In addition to the formal charge of financial misconduct, Ghosn has been accused of a variety of other unproven allegations, including using Nissan funds to purchase a string of luxury homes around the world.

One of these homes -- a luxurious, 800-square-meter (8,600 square-foot) spread with ocean views over Rio de Janeiro's famous Copacabana Beach -- has become the subject of a legal battle on the other side of the world, where Ghosn now resides.

Last week, Ghosn family members entered the flat, removed "personal effects" and opened the safes, according to Nissan.

This followed a court order giving Ghosn's representatives access despite objections from the Japanese firm.

(AFP)

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