TOKYO — Carlos Ghosn was afraid of being fired as CEO of Renault if the world knew how much salary he was really making, according to testimony in the Japanese trial against one of his former deputies, American human resources executive Greg Kelly.
A key witness this month turned up the heat on Kelly, who stands accused of attempting to conceal Ghosn's compensation package from financial documents.
A small army of top executives were preoccupied with finding ways to pay Ghosn more money in secret, according to Hari Nada, a current Nissan legal executive who agreed to testify in the case in exchange for immunity from being prosecuted.
According to Nada, some executives referred to the problem of Ghosn's deferred, unreported income as his "haircut."
Prosecutors allege that Ghosn and Kelly conspired to hide more than $80 million in deferred payment — money that would somehow need to be paid to Ghosn after his retirement.
Nada, who ran legal affairs and the CEO office at Nissan and helped plan Ghosn's allegedly postponed payout, this month claimed that Kelly was in charge of paying off the "haircut."
Nada claimed that the American wished to retire but could not do so until Ghosn's payments were figured out.
Kelly, now 64, oversaw Nissan's legal affairs, human resources and its CEO office. In 2014, he handed off the legal affairs and CEO office duties to Nada. Kelly then retired from operational duties at Nissan in 2015, but stayed on for one more year in an executive position leading human resources for the Renault-Nissan alliance.
After that, Kelly was eager to retire for good but the Ghosn haircut was still not resolved, Nada asserted. The trusted American executive was kept on the Japanese carmaker's board as a representative director, with the power to sign legal documents, largely to manage Ghosn's compensation, Nada said.
While pointing the finger at Kelly, Nada also painted a picture of an executive who was simply ready to exit. Nada said Kelly's continued role was largely about Ghosn's compensation issues.
"He said simply, it was to get Ghosn paid — and once he's paid, I can go fishing," Nada recounted Kelly as explaining. "Mr. Kelly considered it his duty to get Mr. Ghosn's haircut paid."