Carlos Ghosn remains a fugitive as his right-hand man goes on trial

Carlos Ghosn remains a fugitive as his right-hand man goes on trial
Source: Reuters
The former Nissan CEO remains free from what he has insisted is “political persecution,” but his former right-hand man Greg Kelly now faces the Japanese criminal justice system which boasts a 99% conviction rate.

Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of The Nissan Motor Company, Ltd., remains a fugitive in Lebanon as his right-hand man Greg Kelly goes on trial in Japan over allegedly conspiring with the fugitive chairman to falsify financial statements.

Kelly, an American by birth, is a former Nissan executive who served as an aide to Ghosn. Kelly was accused of helping falsify financial statements that underreported Ghosn’s pay by tens of millions of dollars in 2018, allegedly allowing the former chairman and chief executive officer to pocket much more than he was publicly earning.

Although Ghosn subsequently escaped house arrest in Japan, a series of events that reads like a script to a Hollywood drama, Kelly was not so fortunate and now intends to maintain his innocence before the Tokyo District Court.

Kelly’s trial shows that the Ghosn saga remains far from over. But beyond prosecuting Kelly there appears to be little the Japanese government can do to resolve the case definitively. Ghosn remains a fugitive in Lebanon, a country that possesses no extradition treaty with Japan, and his exact whereabouts are not known.

The former Nissan CEO remains free from what he has insisted is “political persecution,” but his former right-hand man Greg Kelly now faces the Japanese criminal justice system which boasts a 99% conviction rate.

Ghosn’s detention

Kelly’s trial comes as the result of the 2018 arrest of both Kelly and his boss, Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman and CEO of both Nissan and Groupe Renault.

The two men are accused of underreporting Ghosn’s income by more than half, concealing the true figure of some US$87 million in pay. Internal investigations undertaken by Nissan concluded that Ghosn had allegedly accumulated some US$82 million in “IOUs” (I Owe Yous) over nine years.

Ghosn was reportedly detained for 108 days in the wake of his arrest, during which time he was interrogated repeatedly, often without a lawyer present.

From the beginning, Ghosn has painted himself as a victim of an internal Nissan conflict and the victim of a “backstabbing” by fellow Nissan executives. His charges, Ghosn has claimed, amount to nothing more than a “conspiracy” and a “plot.”

Regardless of his guilt, Ghosn’s treatment, by virtue of his high-profile nature as a world-famous executive, has resulted in criticism of Japan’s criminal justice system.

Ghosn’s long-periods of detention and interrogation prompted criticism of Japan’s so-called “hostage justice” system, in which suspects are detained for long periods of time in less-than-satisfactory conditions so as to extract confessions of guilt, which has contributed to Japan’s high 99% conviction rate.

In fact, some 89% of criminal convictions in Japan are based wholly or in part on such confessions.

Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori has defended Japanese conviction rates as resulting from the decision to prosecute only about a third of cases that come up and then choosing only those that “result in guilty verdicts.” Contrary to both Ghosn’s and Kelly’s claims, Mori insists that there is a “presumption of innocence.”

Ghosn’s wife, Carole, who had little to no contact with her husband due to house arrest restrictions, also complained about his arrest conditions.

Carole Ghosn complained that her husband was made to sleep in a cell that had lights on 24/7, was allowed out for only half an hour each day and was subject to interrogations that lasted as long as eight hours.

How did Ghosn escape Japanese authorities?

Prior to his escape, Ghosn was nearly 66 years old and reportedly feared that the strenuous conditions he was placed under, even under house arrest, might see him die alone in Japan.

It was for this reason that associates close to Ghosn reached out to figures capable of securing his escape. Despite being placed under strict house arrest, which consisted of Ghosn’s Tokyo home being constantly surveilled and limiting the former-CEO’s internet and phone time, with the help of American military contractor Michael Taylor the fugitive Nissan chairman was whisked out of Japan hidden inside a large case holding speakers.

According to prosecutors, Ghosn reportedly paid some US$860,000 to Taylor for organizing his escape. Taylor and his son would later be arrested by authorities in the United States in January 2020. The two now face potential extradition to Japan.

Although Lebanese government minister Salim Jreissati stated that “the government has nothing to do with [Mr. Ghosn’s] decision to come” nor was it in any way involved in his escape, Ghosn appears safe, for now, in the country, with officials not pushing to secure Ghosn’s arrest or extradition as requested by Interpol’s red notice.

Ghosn’s aide on trial

Like Ghosn, Kelly’s detention has also drawn criticism for the supposedly overly-harsh conditions of the Japanese justice system which is allegedly “rigged” against noncitizens, according to Kelly’s lawyer James Wareham.

Kelly’s lawyer has argued that the case “has nothing to do with guilt or innocence,” but has everything to do with “a corporate coup and efforts to allow Japanese citizens to lie and to entrap, all for the benefit of keeping Nissan Japanese.”

Ghosn’s wife has also alleged that her husband’s downfall was linked to his plans to merge the Japanese automaker with the French company Renault, of which Ghosn was also CEO.

Kelly and his lawyer have both complained of a process designed in order to secure confessions and admit defeat. In one example, even when Kelly’s trial was set to begin, prosecutors had yet to hand over more than 70 boxes of evidence to the defense.

This would add to a staggering total of some billion pages of evidence, an excessive amount that seems intended to bog down Kelly’s defense efforts, his lawyers have suggested.

Kelly himself has spent US$22,000 reaching out internationally about the perceived injustice of his situation. Several Republican senators wrote an op-ed in response criticizing Kelly’s treatment.

With the trial to last around a year, Kelly faces up to a decade in prison if found guilty. As for Ghosn, Japanese authorities may not come any closer to securing his rearrest.

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