The Ghost of Ghosn: Nissan’s Ex-Head of Legal goes on trial in Japan

October 1, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Nissan’s former global Head of Legal Greg Kelly has been brought to trial in the Tokyo District Court, charged with conspiring to help hide the salary and compensation package provided to Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan.

What does this mean?

The case, which commenced on 17 September 2020, has taken over two years to get to trial. In November 2018, Japanese prosecutors indicted Nissan’s former chairman with financial crimes. Along with Kelly, the Japanese government is accusing Nissan of violating Japan’s strict Financial Instruments Law by entertaining “false entries” to help keep Ghosn at the firm. This helped Ghosn underreport his salary for eight years between 2011-2018, funding his extravagant lifestyle. Kelly, previously Ghosn’s right hand man, has pleaded not guilty. Nissan, on the other hand, is not contesting the charges and has agreed to pay a ¥2.4bn ($22.6m) fine.

Ghosn, however, was absent. His escape to Lebanon from Japan last December was chronicled around the world (to see our article on that, click here). He maintains the trial is part of a “plot” by the Japanese authorities, in partnership with Nissan, to oust him following plans to merge with Renault, Nissan’s French partner.

What's the big picture effect?

Acquittals in Japan are extremely rare. 99.4% of trials heard in Court result in conviction, most of which are secured following a confession. This has led to accusations that Japan supports a “hostage justice” system, with no “presumption of innocence”. Suspects are often held indefinitely and interrogated without a lawyer present, being subject to up to eight hours of interrogation a day. 

Notably too, in Japan it is legal for suspects to be held for 23 days without charge. Compare this with the UK where you can be held for a maximum of 24 hours, unless convicted either of a more serious crime (36-96 hours) or arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 (14 days).  The power of the Japanese judicial system to override individual rights has led to international criticism, including by the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Kelly now faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, following detention in Japan for just under two. Many argue this reflects a wider pattern of abuses by the Japanese judicial system, holding suspects for excessively long periods prior to conviction. In this case, Kelly’s lawyer insists this is tantamount to unfair treatment given his client is “obviously innocent”. 

This trial has grabbed the headlines, reigniting pronounced suspicion of the justice system in the Asian nation. Yet ultimately the ghostly presence of Kelly’s ex-boss continues to cast an almighty shadow over proceedings.

Report written by George Maxwell

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