Greg Kelly, a former aide to ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, pleaded not guilty to charges of financial misconduct after his trial began in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Ghosn is at large as an international fugitive, after jumping bail and fled to Japan for Lebanon last year, leaving Kelly the only man to face trial in the rollercoaster saga.
American Kelly pleaded not guilty to the charges on Tuesday, accusing him of conspiring to pay tens of millions of dollars, stating that Ghosn was allegedly promised after his retirement.
“I deny the charges. I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy,” Kelly said.
The trial is expected to last for about 10 months, with Kelly and Nissan questioning whether illegally concealed payments of approximately 9.2 billion yen ($ 87 million in today’s rates) between 2010 and 2018, upon retirement. Promised to give it to Ghosn.
Nissan, who is on trial with Kelly, says he pleaded guilty on Tuesday.
But Kelly, who faces a sentence of up to 10 years if found guilty, has consistently denied any wrongdoing, arguing – as Ghosn says – no final settlement on post-retirement pay. Was made and therefore no disclosure was legally required.
Kelly, who turned 64 on Tuesday, entered the courtroom wearing a dark suit and red striped tie – and wearing a surgical mask. He refused to talk to the media gathered outside.
Inside the court room, he described Ghosn as an “extraordinary executive” who brought Nissan back from the brink of bankruptcy and considered it a “retention risk” as the 2010 limited executive pay rules in Japan were enforced .
He said that Ghosn was considering various options for additional pay, and he “assumed” that any compensation would be valid.
“The evidence would show that I did not break the law,” Kelly said.
– Defense ‘confidence’ –
Nissan and Japanese prosecutors disagree that they have evidence that future payments were mortgaged to Ghosn and therefore should have been disclosed in the firm’s financial filings as required by Japanese law.
In court on Tuesday, the prosecution cited a 2011 document that they wrote Nissan would pay Ghosn more than his official salary, calling it “deferred compensation”.
He said that he was given the actual amount paid as well as other compensation that “would certainly be paid to Mr. Ghosh”, he said.
According to Kelly’s lawyers, prosecutors have destroyed a vast group of documents, of which only a small portion has been awarded.
His defense team told AFP that they agreed to the trial despite this, arguing that they had “no choice” because Kelly – who has been out on bail in Tokyo since December 2018 – owes most of his family. The case would go to court when he waited for him.
His wife Dey has stayed with him in Tokyo and told reporters that it is “disappointing” that Ghosn’s testimony will not take place.
“But he’s not here and he made the choice and he had to make that choice,” she said.
Kelly’s legal team says they believe they can be acquitted – despite the track record of Japan’s prosecutors, they win more than 99 percent of the criminal lawsuits they bring to court.
But he argues that the court’s refusal to allow foreign witnesses to testify by video conference puts them at a strong disadvantage.
Nissan has taken a tough stand on the lawsuit, with sources close to a firm’s leadership saying that negative media attention was concerned.
The witness list includes several top former or current Nissan officers, including Kelly’s former colleague Hari Nada, who received whistleblower status from prosecutors for his cooperation.
Former CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who was forced into financial trouble discovered by an internal investigation in the wake of the Ghosan scandal, will also testify.
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