Former Nissan Motor Co director Greg Kelly pleaded not guilty to charges of helping former Chairman Carlos Ghosn hide millions in compensation, vowing to prove his innocence in a trial that’s starting almost two years after their arrests in Japan and in the absence of the main suspect.
“I deny the allegations,” said Kelly, when asked by the judges at the outset whether he had anything to say. “I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy.”
Kelly also told the court in Tokyo all his actions were intended to keep Ghosn employed at Nissan. He recounted how in the late 1990s, when the carmaker was losing money, Renault bought a stake in Nissan and sent in Ghosn.
“Mr Ghosn was an extraordinary executive,” said Kelly, who appeared solemn and calm throughout the proceedings. Like everyone in the court, he also wore a face mask. Even though all the experts found that Nissan was doomed, “Mr Ghosn proved the experts wrong. Under Mr Ghosn’s leadership, Nissan became very profitable,” he said.
Ghosn’s name was mentioned hundreds of times by the prosecution and lawyers for Kelly and Nissan as they delivered opening statements, underscoring the former auto executive’s absence from a case that has fascinated the corporate world since the pair’s November 2018 arrest. Ghosn staged a dramatic escape from Japan at the end of 2019, claiming that he wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial there.
“Greg Kelly is clearly a victim of the Japanese hostage justice system,” a publicist for Ghosn said in a statement. “Mr Ghosn’s thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.”
Kelly is now left as the sole individual defendant. The US citizen, who turned 64 on the first day of proceedings, has been charged by Japanese prosecutors for allegedly helping understate Ghosn’s compensation by about $85 million over eight years. Kelly could face as long as a decade in prison if convicted.
Kelly also gave more details about Nissan’s business situation in Tuesday’s court session, saying the automaker was only selling around 2.5 million cars globally per year before Ghosn arrived and after he took over,
it was selling around 5.6 million in 2017.