TOKYO (Reuters) -A Tokyo court on Thursday handed Nissan Motor executive Greg Kelly a sixth month suspended sentence for helping Carlos Ghosn hide pay from financial regulators, paving the way for the American lawyer to return home after more than three years in Japan.
“The court finds the existence of unpaid remuneration” and the failure to disclose “the grand total” amounted to “false” reporting, the chief judge said.
The ruling by him and the other two judges also blamed a key prosecution witness, Toshiaki Ohnuma, for his role in Ghosn’s alleged failure to disclose $80 million of income over eight years.
Ohnuma, a Nissan official who oversaw details of Ghosn’s compensation, avoided charges in return for cooperating with prosecutors.
“Ohnuma’s statement is fraught with danger that he was making statements that conformed to the prosecutors’ wishes,” the judge said. “There was a danger as an accomplice that he would seek to shift responsibility to Ghosn,” he added.
The court also fined Nissan 200 million yen ($1.73 million) for its failure to disclose Ghosn’s pay. Japan’s No.3 carmaker pleaded guilty at the start of the trial 18 months ago.
The verdict more than three years after Kelly’s arrest alongside Ghosn draws a line over a case that threatened to irritate relations between Japan and the United States, its closet ally, Some western observers criticised the Japanese justice system for its treatment of Kelly.
Suspects in Japan are not allowed to have a lawyer present during interrogations and can be detained for up to three weeks without charge. And 99% of cases that go to trial end with a conviction.
“While this has been a long three years for the Kelly family, this chapter has come to an end. He and Dee (his wife) can begin their next chapter in Tennessee,” U.S. ambassador in Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
Kelly denied breaking the law and testified that his only intent was to give Ghosn, who was also the chief executive at Renault, a compensation package that would dissuade him from defecting to a rival automaker.
Bill Hagerty, a U.S. Senator from Kelly’s home state Tennessee, said he planned to welcome his constituent at the airport.
“Greg has been subjected to circumstances corporate America could never contemplate,” Hagerty said. “Greg is innocent of the charges levied against him,” he added.
The court ruling does not mean an end to legal troubles faced by the former head of Nissan and alliance partner Renault SA, but it may be the closest the Tokyo court gets to ruling on Ghosn’s culpability.
Ghosn is beyond the reach of Japanese prosecutors after fleeing to Lebanon in 2019 hidden in a box on a private jet, although he is unable to leave without risking arrest.
In addition to the charge of hiding his earnings, Ghosn is also accused of enriching himself at his employer’s expense through $5 million of payments to a Middle East car dealership, and for temporarily transferring personal investment losses to his former employer’s books.
Ghosn has denied all the accusations against him.
($1 = 115.5900 yen)
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Grant McCool and Michael Perry)