Ex-US Nissan Kelly executive given suspended sentence to return home – WSOC TV

TOKYO — (AP) — A Tokyo court sentenced Greg Kelly, a former US Nissan Motor executive accused of understating his boss Carlos Ghosn’s salary, to a suspended sentence but cleared him of most charges.

The verdict announced Thursday of a six-month sentence suspended for three years will allow Kelly to return to the United States for the duration of an appeal. Kelly’s defense attorneys said they would appeal. It was unclear whether prosecutors would do so as well.

Kelly, who appeared calm during the hearing, said afterwards that he was stunned by the verdict.

“I have always acted in Nissan’s best interests and have never been involved in any unlawful act,” said Kelly, who plans to return to Tennessee.

The court acquitted Kelly of some counts, but found him guilty of charges for only one of the eight years for which compensation was allegedly understated. The defense team said that was unacceptable.

“Kelly is completely innocent. We cannot accept the flawed decision that found him guilty for this past year,” the defense, led by Yoichi Kitamura, said in a statement.

Kelly was arrested in November 2018 along with Ghosn, former CEO of Nissan and head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. Both insist they are innocent and that the money in question was never paid or decided.

The trial in Tokyo District Court 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 has no extradition treaty with Japan, and wrote books and made films about his experiences.

During Thursday’s session, Chief Justice Kenji Shimotsu repeatedly criticized Ghosn, telling the court that Ghosn had shown greed and malice in a “dictatorial reign” at Nissan. Nissan’s flawed governance misled investors and had a detrimental impact, he said.

Shimotsu said Ghosn made an arrangement for his compensation that was “driven solely by personal greed”.

“There is absolutely no room for extenuating circumstances in his motive,” he said.

Ghosn called the ruling a “saving verdict” for prosecutors and other Nissan executives he accuses of colluding against him, Kelly, Renault and all shareholders.

“I’m relieved for Greg and his family,” Ghosn said in a Zoom call with a small group of reporters.

Ghosn has denied allegations that he conspired with another Nissan executive, Toshiaki Ohnuma, to calculate unpaid compensation and attempt to secretly have it paid later. He reiterated his complaints about “hostage justice” in Japan, where suspects are often led to convictions and the conviction rate exceeds 99%.

“This story is far from over. Justice is far from done,” Ghosn said.

Prosecutors had asked that Kelly be sentenced to two years in prison. They alleged that Ghosn, Kelly and Nissan Motor Co. understated Ghosn’s compensation by 9 billion yen ($78 million) in filings over eight years to 2018. Kelly and his defense said the he objective was simply to prevent Ghosn from leaving for a competitor.

During the trial, the prosecution presented as evidence various documents calculating Ghosn’s so-called “deferred compensation”. Nissan pleaded guilty and paid a fine of 200 million yen ($1.7 million).

Shimotsu, the judge, acknowledged that the evidence did not directly link Kelly to what he called a “conspiracy” by Ghosn and Ohnuma. He also said Ohnuma’s testimony was crucial but not entirely reliable as he negotiated a plea bargain.

“His credibility deserves special attention,” Shimotsu said. “There was a danger that as an accomplice he would seek to shift the blame onto Ghosn.”

But he accused Kelly of putting Ghosn’s interests ahead of Nissan’s.

Ghosn led Nissan for nearly 20 years after his French alliance partner Renault SA sent him to lead a turnaround at the near-bankrupt Japanese automaker. 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 are paid much less than their American counterparts. When Japan began requiring disclosure of high executive pay in 2010, Ghosn’s salary of around $9.5 million, even without the deferred pay, raised eyebrows.

Kelly was released on bail and lives with his wife in Tokyo. He was hired by Nissan’s US division in 1988 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 last year. Michael Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison and his son Peter to one year and eight months.

Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee, welcomed Kelly’s planned return.

“Greg is coming home,” Hagerty said. “Greg was subjected to circumstances that corporate America could never contemplate. What should have been a discussion in the corporate boardroom ended up in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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