Carlos Ghosn's escape puts spotlight on the former aide left behind

Carlos Ghosn is apparently beyond the reach of Japanese justice after fleeing to Lebanon but his departure poses many questions, not least the fate of his former aide, Greg Kelly.

Kelly, 63, remains on bail in Japan where he awaits trial on similar charges to Ghosn. Nissan accused Kelly, who is American, of “deep involvement” in his boss’s misconduct. This included the underreporting of Ghosn’s pay packets, which had faced criticism as being excessive. Both have denied all allegations against them.

Kelly, a lawyer by training who joined Nissan in 1988, rose steadily through the carmaker’s human resources division. Ghosn arrived in 1999 with a mandate to turn round the struggling company, with a key ally in Kelly, who became the first American to join Nissan’s board in June 2012.

Ghosn escape route

The US Securities and Exchange Commission said in September that Kelly gave Ghosn “substantial assistance” to conceal more than $90m (£68m) of pay, along with a boost of more than $50m to his retirement package. Kelly paid a $100,000 penalty to settle the SEC charges, without admitting or denying guilt, and was barred as a US company director for five years.

Kelly was released from the Tokyo detention centre – where he and Ghosn spent long periods – on Christmas Day 2018. Ghosn’s escape will now thrust the spotlight on the trial of his former righthand man.

It will also heighten scrutiny of Japan’s notoriously harsh justice system, which experts say ill befits one of the world’s most advanced economies. A widely cited 99.8% conviction rate for those charged with crimes has led to criticism that judges give prosecutors too much credence, while the country still retains the death penalty for more serious crimes.

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In April, more than 1,000 Japanese academics and lawyers – including Ghosn’s lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka – signed a letter organised by Human Rights Watch criticising Japan’s hitojichi-shiho, or “hostage justice” system. Suspects can be detained for long periods, questioned without their lawyers present, and barred from access to their families – as was the case for Ghosn.

Kenneth Roth, the non-governmental organisation’s executive director, said: “Among the conditions of Japan’s justice system that Carlos Ghosn fled was a prohibition of communicating with his wife – part of the pressure to induce confessions even out of formal custody.”

The Ghosn case also highlights the potential for abuse of a 23-day detention limit, with prosecutors regularly rearresting suspects on minor variations of original charges in order to continue questioning.


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