RURIKA IMAHASHI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Former Nissan Motor executive Greg Kelly was found guilty on Thursday in a Tokyo court for his alleged part in helping Carlos Ghosn, his former boss at Nissan Motor, hide earnings.
This was the first ruling concerning financial misconduct allegations that shook the Japanese automaker in 2018. The Tokyo District Court judge sentenced Kelly to six months in prison, suspended for three years.
The sentence means Kelly will serve no prison time if he does not engage in any illegal activity during the next three years. With the ruling, he is expected to leave for the U.S.
The American lawyer, formerly Nissan’s representative director, was arrested in 2018 along with Ghosn — then chairman of the automaker — on suspicion of underreporting pay.
The judge fined Nissan Motor 200 million yen ($1.7 million) for violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act. Ghosn, who has been charged with violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act and aggravated breach of trust, was absent from the proceedings.
The judge found that “unpaid remuneration” existed for former Chairman Ghosn, that it escaped disclosure and thus false statements were made. The judge also ruled that Kelly was guilty of conspiring with Ghosn and the former chairman’s head secretary at the time. The secretary agreed to a plea bargain.
The guilty ruling is only in regard to the indictment for the fiscal year ended March 2018. As for indictments that cover the fiscal years that began in April 2010 through March 2017, the court ruled Kelly was not guilty of conspiring with Ghosn or others.
Prosecutors allege that Kelly and Ghosn had understated Ghosn’s annual salary of about 2 billion yen by not listing a deferred yearly payment of 1 billion yen.
Both were accused of understating Ghosn’s remuneration by around 9 billion yen over eight years through March 2018, violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act.
Kelly pleaded innocent, claiming that the remuneration in question was not executive compensation, as it was planned to reward Ghosn for his services to Nissan after his retirement.
“We are relieved that the legal process has concluded,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement issued on Thursday. “While this has been a long three years for the Kelly family, this chapter has come to an end.”
In December 2019, Ghosn fled Japan by hiding in a music equipment box that was carried onto a private jet. At the time he was out on bail and awaiting trial. Since then, he has been living on the lam in Lebanon. Ghosn has Lebanese and French nationality. Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan, has not responded to an Interpol wanted notice issued at the request of Japanese investigators.
Trial proceedings against Ghosn have been effectively frozen.
In July, a Tokyo court sentenced U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son Peter to prison sentences for aiding Ghosn’s escape.
In an interview with Nikkei in October, Ghosn denied any wrongdoing and argued his escape from Japan was a way of speaking out against the accusations against him.