Former Nissan Motor Co. Director Greg Kelly should be exonerated of criminal charges for allegedly helping Carlos Ghosn underreport compensation, because he had no motive and no knowledge of any plans to repay the former chairman for reduced income, his lawyer said on the final day of court proceedings.

Prosecutors failed to prove that there was a conspiracy within the Japanese carmaker to conceal the auto executive’s remuneration, Yoichi Kitamura, Kelly’s defense attorney, said during closing arguments Wednesday at the Tokyo District Court.

Kelly, 65, was arrested the same day as Ghosn in November 2018 and has been in Japan ever since, seeking to prove his innocence in a trial that started a year ago. “The defendant, Gregory Lewis Kelly, is innocent,” Kitamura said.

The trial against Kelly, who denies the charges, is nearing completion, with a verdict due in March. Prosecutors said last month that Kelly should be sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly helping Ghosn hide income of more than ¥9 billion ($81 million). Ghosn is not facing a court in Japan, having staged a spectacular escape from the country at the end of 2019 and made his way by private jet to Lebanon.

A regular contingent of about two dozen reporters were in the courtroom on the final day of public proceedings, and there were over 30 spectators — more than the usual number. Kelly was dressed in his usual dark grey suit with a red tie. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and other related legal parties were also in attendance.

Nissan, also a defendant in the trial, isn’t disputing the charges of financial misconduct and presented final arguments Wednesday admitting to the allegations. Lawyers for the automaker outlined the harm done to the company, both financially and to its reputation, because of Ghosn and Kelly’s alleged actions. “Kelly’s efforts to retain Ghosn were clearly unlawful,” Nissan’s attorney said during a presentation that lasted about 30 minutes.

Prosecutors said last month that Ghosn and Kelly “sought to evade disclosures to avoid criticism by shareholders” and that “Kelly had a critical and essential role” in coming up with measures to avoid disclosure of income and finding other ways to pay Ghosn.

The arrests of Ghosn and Kelly triggered shock waves that reverberated through Nissan, and its global carmaking alliance with Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Nissan’s profits slumped to a decade low, and score-settling fueled an exodus of other top executives. The turmoil left the company in a weaker position as it seeks to navigate an industry that’s being disrupted by a shift to electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

Ghosn is in Beirut and seeking to restore his reputation, and has acknowledged that Kelly’s trial will serve as a proxy for how he is ultimately judged.

Kelly, one of Nissan’s most senior executives who oversaw human resources, legal affairs and other matters, said during testimony earlier this year that he sought ways to legally compensate Ghosn after the former chairman voluntarily reduced his pay. “We wanted to find ways to retain Mr. Ghosn at Nissan because that would have been valuable for Nissan,” said Kelly, who gave up some of his duties in 2015 while remaining on the board.

Kitamura presented an abridged version of his defense instead of the full document, which ran to almost 500 pages, including exhibits. He said there was a clear lack of evidence showing any desire or motive to pay Ghosn a certain amount. He also pointed out that it would have been difficult for Kelly, as a non-Japanese speaker, to collude with others.

“Kelly is a lawyer and would not knowingly commit a criminal act,” Kitamura said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.