Former Nissan Motor Co executive Greg Kelly denied charges he helped ex-boss, Carlos Ghosn, hide income as the American lawyer's trial opened in Tokyo on Tuesday almost two years after Japanese prosecutors arrested the pair.
Mr Kelly, who has been on bail in Japan since his release from jail in 2018, delivered his plea to the court without co-accused Mr Ghosn, who fled to Lebanon in December, following a dramatic escape from Japan.
A representative from Nissan, which was also indicted, told the judge the automaker did not contest the charges.
“I deny the allegations. I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy,” said Mr Kelly, in a dark gray suit and red striped tie, according to a court pool report.
Wearing a face mask, he used earphones to listen to a English translation of court proceedings, most of which was in Japanese.
“Mr. Ghosn was an extraordinary executive,” added the former Nissan representative director, who is charged with helping Mr Ghosn hide 9.3 billion yen ($88 million) in compensation over eight years through deferred payments.
The trial could take about a year. If found guilty, Mr Kelly, who turned 64 on Tuesday, could face up to 10 years in prison and a 10 million yen (€79,552) fine.
The proceedings will include evidence and testimony from some prominent company executives, including a former chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, that could shine a light on the inner workings of the Japanese automaker.
That renewed spotlight comes as Nissan attempts to rein in losses and revamp an aging vehicle line-up following Mr Ghosn’s departure as chief executive. The company, like other carmakers, is also struggling with a weak demand and disruptions in production caused by the coronavirus.
Nissan has cooperated with prosecutors. It declined to comment.
The trial has also focused international attention on judicial practices that critics in Japan and overseas see as overly harsh.
Prisoners on remand are sometimes kept in isolation and often refused bail if they deny charges brought against them. Detainees are also interrogated without a lawyer present.
The conviction rate in Japan is about 99 per cent.
Mr Ghosn was smuggled out of Japan in a speaker case on a private jet as he awaited trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies.
After the disappearance of the once-feted executive, Japan said it guaranteed individuals’ rights and had dealt appropriately with him.
Mr Ghosn, who also ran French carmaker Renault, faces two separate breach of trust charges that he enriched himself at Nissan's expense through $5 million in payments to a Middle East car dealership, and that he temporarily transferred personal financial losses to his employer's books.
Mr Ghosn said he was a victim of a boardroom coup by former colleagues worried he would push through a merger between Nissan and Renault, its largest shareholder. – Reuters