TOKYO – Greg Kelly, the American former Nissan executive accused of helping Carlos Ghosn hide tens of millions of dollars in deferred compensation, denied the charges as the closely watched financial misconduct trial began in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Kelly said his work on Ghosn’s pay package was strictly legal and called his ex-boss an “extraordinary executive” who needed to be retained for the company’s benefit.
Kelly went on trial nearly two years after being arrested in Japan. He denied violating the law and said his actions simply revolved around legal ways to keep Ghosn from jumping to a competitor. Proceedings at the Tokyo District Court began the same day Kelly turned 64.
“This was all in the best interests of Nissan,” said Kelly, dressed in a dark suit and red tie and wearing a mask to guard against the coronavirus. “I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy.”
Kelly, who rose from his job as Nissan's top U.S. human resources executive to become a director on its global board of directors and a trusted Ghosn aid, is charged with orchestrating a plan to conceal more than $80 million in deferred remuneration to Ghosn over the 2010-17 fiscal years, resulting in the information not being reported in Nissan's public financial documents.
Ghosn was arrested separately the same day as Kelly, Nov. 19, 2018, in a coordinated sweep by Japanese prosecutors. But Ghosn jumped bail at the end of December 2019 and fled to Lebanon.
Ghosn’s arrest threw Nissan’s management into chaos and nearly derailed its 20-year alliance with French partner Renault. Nearly two years later, both companies are struggling to restore trust and momentum, and Nissan is bracing for its biggest-ever operating loss this fiscal year.
If found guilty, Kelly could face up to a decade of prison in Japan.
Nissan, as a corporate entity, is indicted on the same charge as Kelly. But in court, the carmaker’s representative, Vice President Manabu Sakane, said the company will not contest the allegations.