Greg Kelly’s chief attorney, an American on trial in Japan for inadequate coverage of compensation for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, said his client was merely trying to prevent Ghosn from going to a rival automaker .
“Greg has absolutely no motive to commit such a crime,” Yoichi Kitamura said in his Tokyo office on Friday.
At the time, Kelly, then Executive Vice President of Nissan, was making good money, had a successful career, and was also a lawyer.
“He speaks like a lawyer and he thinks like a lawyer,” said Kitamura. “He wouldn’t do anything wrong or illegal.”
Kelly and Ghosn were arrested in late 2018 and are the only Nissan officials charged. Ghosn jumped on bail in December 2019 and fled to Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan. He also says that he is innocent.
The process, which began in September, showed that top Nissan Motor Co. officials, including Kelly and former CEO Hiroto Saikawa, all knew Ghosn made a drastic wage cut after disclosing high salaries for executives in Japan in the year 2010 became necessary.
Prosecutors have alleged Kelly was involved in an attempt to help Ghosn hide the compensation. According to Kitamura, Kelly was not aware of any prior plans for Ghosn’s pay that might have been against the law.
According to Kitamura, Kelly was working to pay Ghosn after his retirement by paying advisory fees and arranging a “non-compete” clause to prevent him from going to a rival automaker. Such payment does not have to be announced in advance.
Kitamura has won acquittals in high profile cases. Even in Japan, where more than 99% of criminal cases result in convictions, a person is considered innocent until found guilty beyond any doubt.
“We don’t have to prove innocence,” he said.
He said he was confident Kelly would be acquitted. If not, he would appeal.
“The most important thing is that he didn’t know anything,” said Kitamura.
A verdict in Kelly’s trial has not been expected for months. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment on charges of underselling compensation by 9 billion yen ($ 88 million) over several years.
It is also possible for Kelly to be given a suspended sentence, which means he won’t serve time or that he can return to his Tennessee home if appealed.
“That would be the last day Greg would stay in Japan,” said Kitamura.
Earlier this week, two American men suspected of helping Ghosn escape Japan while he was hidden in a musical instrument case were extradited from the United States and taken to a detention center in Tokyo.
Michael Taylor and his son Peter had been detained in a Boston prison since May and were transferred to Japanese custody on Monday. They were arrested on suspicion of assisting a criminal, although the charges have not yet been decided. Under Japanese law, suspects can be held without charge for up to 23 days.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama