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Ex-Nissan official Kelly denies plot to hide Ghosn's pay at trial

Defendant says he was only looking to retain talented CEO in first testimony

Former Nissan Motor director Greg Kelly, right, is accused of plotting to conceal then-CEO Carlos Ghosn's compensation.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Former Nissan Motor director Greg Kelly told a Tokyo court on Wednesday he did not conspire with then-CEO Carlos Ghosn to understate the auto boss's pay by tens of millions of dollars, in the long-awaited first testimony in his trial.

Prosecutors say Kelly, at Ghosn' behest, looked for ways for Ghosn to defer an undisclosed portion of his compensation. Kelly on Wednesday denied that documents produced by the prosecution amounted to a contract to pay Ghosn deferred compensation. Kelly said his only consideration was to retain the sought-after head of the Nissan-Renault alliance.

Kelly and Ghosn were both arrested in late 2018. But while Ghosn -- one of the highest-profile and highest-paid foreign corporate executives in Japan -- fled the country while on bail in 2019, Kelly remained to face trial.

Kelly told the court Ghosn's pay was well below the market rate for an executive of his talents and that keeping him on would have been in the interest of Nissan and its partnership with Renault.

The case against Kelly has relied on testimony from Toshiaki Onuma, a former top executive secretary at Nissan, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors.

Onuma testified last year that he and Kelly had discussed ways for Ghosn to receive pay while avoiding disclosure. Kelly told the court Wednesday that Onuma's difficulty speaking English would have made such long, in-depth conversations impossible.

The Ghosn affair rocked Nissan and prompted a reversal of his aggressive overseas push for market share. The automaker on Tuesday forecast its third straight annual net loss for the year ending March 2022.

The Brazilian-born Ghosn hid himself in a box on a private jet to flee charges in Japan in a nighttime escape to Lebanon, where he holds citizenship, aided by two Americans who used a concert as cover, according to details that emerged from a Japanese investigation.

The alleged conspirators in his escape, former Green Beret Michael Taylor and his son Peter, have since been extradited to Japan and now face trial.

Ghosn and the Taylors have denied the accusations against them.

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