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Japan prosecutors seek two years' jail for Ghosn aide Kelly

·3-min read
Former Nissan executive Greg Kelly is on trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to ex-chief Carlos Ghosn (AFP/Behrouz MEHRI)

Japanese prosecutors on Wednesday sought a two-year jail sentence for Greg Kelly, a former aide of fugitive ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, on trial over financial misconduct allegations.

While Ghosn is at large in Lebanon after fleeing Japan in an audio equipment box, Kelly is the only person to stand trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to the auto tycoon.

In a Tokyo court, prosecutors also demanded that Nissan, standing trial as a firm alongside Kelly, be fined 200 million yen ($1.8 million).

The defence will deliver its final arguments on October 27 and the verdict could follow several months later.

Prosecutors alleged that the 65-year-old American lawyer and former Nissan executive played a key role in what they described as a conspiracy to under-report Ghosn's compensation between 2010 and 2018.

"Kelly was behind the efforts to hide Ghosn's income," they said in their statement. "It was a role only Kelly, who had deep trust from Ghosn, could fulfil."

"It needed to be someone comfortable with pursuing... Ghosn's demands, and qualified to be the 'brains' with enough skills as a lawyer to deal with various risks including criminal sanctions," the prosecutors added.

Falsifying annual securities reports can carry a sentence of up to 10 years under Japanese law.

Kelly has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and is living in Tokyo, out on bail and forbidden from leaving Japan while fighting the case.

His lawyer Yoichi Kitamura told AFP on Wednesday that the prosecutors' request "means nothing for us, because we're confident Greg Kelly is not guilty".

"Unless we get the not guilty verdict we'll automatically appeal," he said, adding that Kelly had been "loyal to Nissan, but not to Ghosn as an individual".

- Vast fallout -

The Nissan scandal erupted in 2018 when Ghosn and Kelly were arrested in the Japanese capital, grabbing headlines and sending shockwaves around the corporate world.

Ghosn was slapped with a series of financial misconduct charges, including allegations he was to receive payment after retirement that should have been declared but was not.

The charges against Kelly involve around 9.1 billion yen ($82 million at current rates) that prosecutors say was promised to his former boss upon retirement.

Nissan has pleaded guilty to the charge against it over the alleged payments.

But both Kelly and Ghosn say no final agreement was made on any post-retirement pay, and therefore no disclosure was legally required.

Ghosn, a French, Lebanese and Brazilian national, jumped bail in December 2019 and fled to Lebanon, where he remains a fugitive.

He says he fled for fear he would not receive a fair trial, and claims the charges against him were cooked up by Nissan executives opposed to his plans to more closely integrate the firm with French partner Renault.

The fallout from Ghosn's arrest has been vast, with Nissan's CEO forced out after his own financial irregularities were uncovered in a subsequent probe.

And Ghosn's audacious escape has also prompted legal repercussions around the globe.

The American father and son who helped Ghosn flee Tokyo were given prison sentences in July, having been extradited to Japan from the United States.

Two pilots and another employee of a private airline in Turkey, where Ghosn switched planes before heading to Lebanon, have also been sentenced to four years and two months for their role in the escape.

Ghosn was questioned by French investigators in Lebanon in May over a series of alleged financial improprieties. But he was only heard as a witness, and would need to be in France to be formally indicted.

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