Ex-Nissan exec Kelly says he will prove his innocence without Ghosn

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Former Nissan Motor Co executive Greg Kelly speaks in an interview with Kyodo News on Sept 8. Photo: KYODO

By Noriyuki Suzuki and Takuma Obinata –  Japan Today

Former Nissan Motor Co executive Greg Kelly is confident that he can prove his innocence over alleged financial misconduct as his long-awaited trial begins Tuesday in Tokyo — without former boss Carlos Ghosn.

In an interview with Kyodo News, Kelly, 63, said he was “not disappointed” in Ghosn, who jumped bail and fled Japan in late 2019 to Lebanon, but he would like to have the former boss as a witness.

“I didn’t violate any laws in Japan. This is a matter that, in my view, should have been resolved at Nissan. Nothing was ever promised to Carlos Ghosn. Nothing was ever paid to him,” Kelly said in Tokyo a week before the trial.

“I’m confident that I’m innocent,” said Kelly, a former Nissan representative director, who is out on bail after his arrest by Tokyo prosecutors in November 2018.

Kelly, who took the post in 2012, is accused of conspiring with Ghosn in underreporting the former boss’s remuneration by around 9 billion yen over eight years through March 2018, in violation of Japan’s financial instruments and exchange law. Nissan faces the same accusation as a company.

The prosecutors allege that there were deferred payments that Ghosn was to receive after his retirement, a scheme meant to avoid backlash to his high compensation.

“I would love to have him here as a witness because he could testify,” Kelly said of Ghosn. “This is a case about no promise and no pay. So I wish he was here.

“But you know, in life, we all have to make our own decisions. And he made a decision he thought was best for him and his family.”

Kelly did not hide his frustration over the nearly two years that have passed since his arrest, saying he was “snatched” from his family in the United States. His planned neck surgery had to be delayed, and he has not seen his 9-month-old grandson.

“I don’t think anybody in the world, for this kind of issue that should have been resolved at the corporate level, would want to wait two years in a country that’s 6,000 miles from your family. Having to wait this long to even start a trial is very difficult,” Kelly said.

Ghosn also faces a charge of aggravated breach of trust for his alleged misuse of Nissan funds, an accusation not leveled against Kelly.

Ghosn has claimed that his arrest was due to a plot by Nissan, which wanted to stop him from pursuing a merger with alliance partner and largest shareholder Renault SA, an arrangement the Japanese automaker feared would hurt its independence.

According to Kelly, Ghosn, who was in the unique position of knowing both automakers, maintained Nissan’s independence so the Yokohama-based firm would not be “overwhelmed” by Renault.

“It was very important for him, for people at Nissan, especially people in Japan, to have pride in Nissan, their company,” Kelly said. “My view of his value was based on what the global marketplace was.”

In 2010, Japan started requiring top executives to disclose their annual remuneration exceeding 100 million yen. Ghosn’s compensation, according to the prosecutors, totaled around 2.4 billion yen in the business year through March 2018, months before his arrest.

Kelly, who used to serve as the head of human resources at Nissan, said his relationship with Ghosn is not as close as the media have portrayed it.

“Carlos Ghosn is not my friend. I respect him, and I like him, but he was my boss. So, I don’t know his family. We didn’t go out and drink wine together.”

With his wife in Tokyo, Kelly is now preparing for a trial that he said would last about four months in the United States, by reading piles of documents. The prosecution had 84 boxes of documents, and the defense team is still waiting for 90 percent of these materials.

After months under what Kelly describes as “house arrest,” his trial is expected to take about a year in Japan. The proceedings will be held using consecutive interpretation, not simultaneous.

“I’m a person in life that’s more of an optimist,” Kelly said when asked if the truth would win out. “So, I would hope it would.”

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