TOKYO — Just over two years after former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn fled Japan to escape criminal prosecution, a Japanese court on Thursday convicted his former US deputy of helping him conceal a of its compensation to regulators.
A judge sentenced MP Greg Kelly to six months in prison for his role in concealing Mr Ghosn’s salary during an exercise, but cleared him of any involvement in similar efforts during other periods spanning almost a decade. The sentence will be suspended for three years, allowing Mr Kelly to walk freely. Prosecutors had requested two years.
The verdict – effectively a dismissal of much of the government’s case – will likely be the latest in Japan’s long legal battle against Mr Ghosn, a titanic clash that many critics say illustrates serious flaws in the Japanese legal system.
James Wareham, an American lawyer for Mr Kelly, called the verdict an attempt by the Japanese government to save face in light of the lack of evidence against his client.
In December 2019, Mr Ghosn fled Japan for Lebanon to escape what he called an unfair Japanese justice system, leaving Mr Kelly behind to face what many saw as a proxy trial. from the former high-flying Nissan chief.
Mr Ghosn had long claimed his arrest was part of a coup by Nissan executives and the highest levels of the Japanese government to prevent the automaker from merging with its French partner, Renault.
After Mr. Ghosn’s escape, Japanese prosecutors came under intense pressure to secure a guilty verdict against Mr. Kelly and justify their decision to make the arrests in one of Japan’s most high-profile white-collar criminal cases. history of Japan.
The decision to detain Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly in late 2018 has come under heavy criticism both at home and abroad, with critics bemoaning Japan’s reliance on so-called hostage justice, in which the prosecutors try to extract confessions from detainees by holding them for a long time. periods in inhospitable conditions without bail.
The case sent shockwaves through the international business community, tarnishing Japan’s reputation with foreign leaders. It has also had serious consequences for Nissan, one of Japan’s largest automakers, which has struggled to recover from the reputational damage and chaos among its executives created by the sudden arrest of its former leader.
Prosecutors have accused Mr. Kelly of helping to cover up deals that would effectively increase Mr. Ghosn’s already substantial compensation without sharing that information with shareholders or regulators.
In his defence, Mr. Kelly’s lawyers argued that the agreements never became final and that since Mr. Ghosn never received the compensation at issue, there was no obligation to report it. .
Separated from Mr. Kelly, Mr. Ghosn had faced three additional charges, including a charge of embezzlement of corporate funds. He denies any wrongdoing.
He fled Japan in 2019 by sneaking into a private plane in a box and then flying first to Turkey and then to Lebanon. This country does not have an extradition treaty with Japan, which means that as long as he remains there, he is effectively beyond the reach of Japanese law.
Two American men who aided in his escape were later arrested in the United States and extradited to Japan, where they received prison sentences for their role in the hug.
Mr Ghosn said he fled Japan after being convinced the country would not give him a fair trial. He has spent his time since his escape leading a campaign to rehabilitate his shattered image and draw attention to the flaws in Japan’s justice system.
While Mr. Kelly’s verdict spells the likely end to Japan’s criminal case against Mr. Ghosn, civil cases stemming from the arrest will likely continue for years.