A Tokyo court has sentenced Greg Kelly, a former US Nissan Motor executive accused of understating his boss Carlos Ghosn’s salary, to a six-month suspended prison sentence.
The verdict announced Thursday will allow Kelly to return to the United States immediately.
Kelly was arrested in November 2018 along with Ghosn, former CEO of Nissan and head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. Both insisted they were innocent, arguing that the money at the center of the charges was never paid or decided.
The judge found Kelly not guilty on some counts, but guilty on charges for only one year. His sentence was suspended for three years.
The trial began in September 2020, with Ghosn missing after skipping bail in late 2019, hiding in a musical instrument box on a private jet. He fled to Lebanon, which does not have an extradition treaty with Japan, and wrote books and made films about the ordeal after his arrest.
Kelly and his legal team, led by Yoichi Kitamura, argued during the trial in Tokyo District Court that Kelly was looking for legal ways to pay Ghosn to stop him from leaving for a contestant.
Prosecutors had asked that Kelly be sentenced to two years in prison. They alleged that Ghosn, Kelly and Nissan Motor Co. underreported Ghosn’s compensation by 9 billion yen ($78 million) in filings over eight years to 2018.
During the trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence various documents calculating Ghosn’s so-called deferred compensation. Nissan pleaded guilty and paid a fine of 200 million yen ($1.7 million).
Ghosn was a superstar at Nissan, which he led for almost 20 years. French alliance partner Renault SA sent him to lead the turnaround of its near-bankrupt alliance partner. His downfall was sudden, with Nissan officials who had been close to him accusing him of hoarding power for personal gain and planning a merger of Nissan with Renault.
Renault owns 43% of Nissan, while Nissan, which makes the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models, owns 15% of Renault. Nissan, based in the port city of Yokohama, owns 34% of small Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motor, based in Tokyo. The French state owns 15% of Renault.
Japanese executives tend to be paid far less than their American counterparts, a major factor in the lawsuit. Disclosure of top executive compensation became mandatory in Japan in 2010, and what was disclosed for Ghosn, at around $9.5 million, even without deferred compensation, raised eyebrows.
Kelly is out on bail and lives with his wife in an apartment in Tokyo. US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel recently voiced his support for Kelly, saying he hoped Kelly could be reunited with his grandchildren in the United States soon.
I am here now as a representative of the United States, and Mr. Kelly is a citizen of the United States, and that comes with obligations as a United States ambassador to advocate on his behalf, Emanuel said. .
Kelly was hired by Nissan’s U.S. division in 1988, more than a decade before Ghosn joined Nissan, and became a representative director in 2012, the first American to serve on Nissan’s board. He has worked mainly in legal advice and human resources.
Separately, two Americans extradited from the United States to Japan for smuggling Ghosn out of Japan were convicted in July 2021. Michael Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison, while his son Peter was sentenced to one year and eight months.
The conviction rate in Japanese criminal trials exceeds 99%.
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