In handing Kelly a six-month suspended sentence and fining Nissan ¥200 million ($1.73 million), the judge seemed mostly intent on issuing a proxy judgment on Ghosn in absentia.
"This case was motivated by Ghosn's personal greed," Shimotsu declared, blasting the indicted former high-flying chairman as "selfish and arrogant" and his tenure at the helm of Nissan a "dictatorship."
Ghosn, who led Nissan Motor Co. as chairman and also created and ran the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon to evade what he called an unfair justice system. After the Kelly verdict, he wasted little time in firing back.
In a video call with Automotive News, Ghosn said the judge's comments only highlighted the baked-in bias of the Japanese legal system.
"I'm supposed to be in front of a judge, not another prosecutor," Ghosn said. "This is a face-saving verdict," he said of Kelly's conviction, "but nevertheless predictable and obvious if you find yourself in the hostage justice system in Japan. The only uncertainty is what kind of excuse you will find to make him appear guilty.
"In Japan, when the prosecutor puts his eyes on you, you're guilty. And then you have to prove your innocence," Ghosn said, taking issue with Japan's vaunted 99 percent conviction rate.
In handing down his long-awaited ruling last week, more than three years after Ghosn's arrest in 2018, the judge also took aim at Nissan itself. Shimotsu blamed the automaker's "dysfunctional corporate governance" for enabling the misconduct to begin, saying "this is nothing more than the consequences of its own deeds."
Defendant Kelly, a former Nissan director, was relegated to a relative footnote in Shimotsu's concluding comments.
In fact, Kelly's conviction was for his activity during only one of the eight fiscal years under scrutiny by prosecutors. The court actually ruled Kelly not guilty on all counts in the remaining seven years, deciding there was no hard evidence linking him to alleged misconduct. But, Shimotsu maintained, that's not to say there weren't crimes those other years.
The judge repeatedly blasted Ghosn for conspiring to conceal deferred compensation with another Nissan official, the general manager of the Secretariat office that handles the automaker's executive pay. Prosecutors claimed that over the eight years in question, Ghosn instructed that official, Toshiaki Ohnuma, to set aside about half of the chairman's remuneration and not disclose it in Nissan's financial filings.
The plan, prosecutors claimed, was to sidestep reporting rules and quietly comp Ghosn the shortfall at a later date — an alleged sum totaling about ¥9 billion ($78 million) over eight years.
Ohnuma was told to keep it a "tightly guarded secret" because Ghosn feared that if the true scale of his generous pay were revealed publicly, he would face a backlash in France, where he also chaired Renault.
In outlining this scheme, Shimotsu did not hesitate to declare Ghosn's culpability. "There exists unpaid remuneration for Ghosn that should have been disclosed," he said.
"This crime is one of the most malicious of its kind," he continued. "The case not only shocked the business community but society at large." And because of the false information disclosed in Nissan's securities reports, he said, "there was a high risk of investors making wrong business decisions."