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The mastermind behind Ghosn's dramatic bail release and disguise

TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn’s bet on a new team of lawyers paid off this week, thanks to a legal ace who orchestrated his release on bail from a Tokyo jail after more than 100 days.

Takashi Takano, part of an “ All-Star” defense brought on after Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA’s former chairman fired his first attorney, convinced the Tokyo District court and Ghosn himself to accept the strict terms of his bail after two failed attempts.

Then, like a scene from a movie, he disguised his client as a construction worker and whisked him away to his office in Akihabara, Tokyo’s neon-lit electronics district.

The 62-year-old lawyer is a colorful figure in Japan’s legal circles, known as a contrarian with a willingness to take on tough cases, including a mass murder. Junichiro Hironaka, who’s been the public face of Ghosn’s new legal defense team, said even he wasn’t aware of the caper ahead of time, having left it all up to Takano.

“I was surprised when I heard about it,” said Hironaka, whose nickname is “The Razor.”

If Ghosn’s sensational release is any indication, the saga that has Japan riveted likely will continue playing out with plenty of drama, as his team prepares its counterattack against charges of falsifying financial records and breach of trust. It’s a more aggressive approach that they wager will put them in the rare company of the less than 1 percent of defendants who’ve beaten the legal system.

Japanese prosecutors say Ghosn engaged in a pattern of financial misconduct. He denies wrongdoing and argues the charges stem from a conspiracy within Nissan to block his plan to merge with the carmaker Renault, its largest shareholder.

Once Takano got to work, it took less than 48 hours after Ghosn’s third bail request was granted for him to be released, with the prosecutor’s appeal rejected and 1 billion yen ($9 million) in bail paid. “I am grateful for Takano-san,” Hironaka said. “He’s an expert on bail and has all the know-how.” Takano wasn’t available for comment.

Ghosn was hustled out of the gray, drab Tokyo Detention Center with the multitude of cameras trained on him hardly noticing. The former jet-setting executive was dressed in a blue uniform, cap and surgical mask. He slipped into a silver van with the guards and drove away, with watchers assuming it was one of the staff going home. A few lucky — or possibly tipped off — media outlets caught his exit and followed the vehicle.

To pick up Ghosn, the bearded Takano arrived in jeans, sneakers and a flat cap, looking more like a grandfather running an errand. Social media was abuzz with his resemblance to Academy Award-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. The Suzuki van that picked up Ghosn, made to look like a maintenance vehicle with a ladder on top, is registered in Saitama — a prefecture northwest of Tokyo where Takano has roots and built his law career.

The strict bail conditions that Ghosn agreed to — such as camera monitoring and restricted mobile phone and internet access — may have been the deciding factor in his release, legal experts said. The terms are similar to another case Takano worked on, said Tokyo-based defense lawyer Seihou Chou, who used to work for Takano’s office and outlined his thoughts in a blog post.

'Best defense'

Fluent in English with degrees from Waseda University and SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Takano probably also helped convince Ghosn to agree to those conditions. He’s been a vocal critic of the Japanese justice system. Above his Tokyo office plaque is the logo of a crudely drawn eagle, accompanied by the words “Best Defense.”

Takano is known for taking on murder cases, including defending a member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo. Considered one of the country’s great criminal-trial lawyers, he has taught, written legal textbooks and starred in a DVD series on successful courtroom tactics.

In a public birthday message for Takano’s 60th birthday, lawyer Yoshikazu Otsuka said Takano had no common sense and was childish. But then he went on to outline how others should seek to emulate his friend.

“I think Takano has countless virtues, but to me the best one is his sense of humor,” Otsuka said. “It’s impossible to escape his charisma.”

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