TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn’s decision to flee to Lebanon last week effectively ended his legal prosecution in Japan, leaving former Nissan Motor Co. executive Greg Kelly at the center of the sprawling case.
Under Japanese criminal law, only minor accusations can be tried without a defendant, according to Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor. That’s not Ghosn. If found guilty of the allegations of financial misconduct, the chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault could have been sentenced to 10 or more years in prison, depending on the charges.
Tokyo University law professor Wataru Tanaka had been asked by Ghosn’s lawyers to provide expert testimony for the case. Now, Tanaka said, the lawyers don’t expect Ghosn’s trial to continue.
Absent Ghosn, Kelly could become a proxy for whether the former auto titan is considered innocent or guilty. The two were arrested on the same day; Kelly remains in Japan to face charges that allege he helped understate Ghosn’s compensation by tens of millions of dollars. “Whether or not Kelly is proved guilty or not will let us judge whether Ghosn’s arrest was just,” Gohara said.
Kelly’s lawyer Yoichi Kitamura said he expects his client’s trial to start in April as planned. Kelly's wife pleaded for his release in December 2018 and said he was framed in a "power grab" for former Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa.
Ghosn’s arrest has called attention to Japan’s criminal justice system, which boasts a conviction rate of over 99 percent and had been criticized for long detention times. Ghosn spent almost 130 days in jail and said he was repeatedly questioned by prosecutors without a lawyer present. Prosecutors have said they acted in accordance with Japanese law.
“I’m interested to see what happens to the careers of the people involved,” said Colin Jones, a professor of law at Doshisha University. “The ministry of justice is run by prosecutors. It will be interesting to see if people’s career paths reflect some kind of negative impact.”
Following Ghosn’s cinematic escape, prosecutors failed in an attempt to seize a computer used by Ghosn from the offices of his legal defense team. They’ve also obtained an arrest warrant for Ghosn’s wife Carole on charges of false testimony. She’s unlikely to return to Japan voluntarily.
During a press conference last week in Beirut, Ghosn insisted he would stand anywhere he could get a fair hearing. He also acknowledged the former colleague he’d left behind.
“Greg remains a victim of the Japanese hostage justice system, with no trial date in sight 14 months after his arrest,” Ghosn said. “He is being punished precisely because he is honorable and refused to participate in a suspicious plea-bargaining agreement.”