‘I don’t know how you can have a fair trial’ without the main witness, former Nissan executive says

Greg Kelly,
the man
Carlos Ghosn
left behind to face charges of financial crimes alone, says his own case will suffer without his one-time boss.Mr. Kelly had expected Mr. Ghosn, the former chairman of
Nissan Motor
NSANY -0.69%
Co., to speak in his defense against Japanese charges he tried to hide tens of millions of dollars in Mr. Ghosns compensation. With him gone, Mr. Kelly, a former senior executive at the company, says his trial will be adversely affected: Mr. Ghosn was key to corroborating his side of the story, he said.
I dont know how you can have a fair trial, when the main witness is gone, he said in his first interview since Mr. Ghosn jumped bail late last month. Mr. Kelly, 63 years old, was arrested with Mr. Ghosn in November 2018 and later released on bail. He has spent recent months preparing with his attorney for his own trial. A date for the trial hasnt been set.
In an interview with WSJs Nick Kostov, Carlos Ghosn said he regrets not seizing a 2009 opportunity to work in the U.S., where he wouldnt have been crucified for his pay. The former auto executive recently escaped Japan, where he faces charges of financial wrongdoing. Photo: Jacob Russell for The Wall Street Journal
Japanese prosecutors have charged the two men with trying to hide plans to pay Mr. Ghosn over $80 million after he retired, in violation of a Japanese law requiring the disclosure of executive pay. Both men say they didnt commit any crime. Mr. Kelly faces up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty.
Mr. Ghosn has said Nissan executives, including Mr. Kelly, tried to find ways to pay him more money to keep him at the company. The two defendants have said they had discussed ways to pay Mr. Ghosn additional money without disclosing it in regulatory filings, but maintain the amounts didnt need to be disclosed because the discussions were hypothetical and not binding on the company.
Mr. Ghosn faces additional charges in Japan, allegations he has also denied. But the two were set to stand trial together on the compensation issue.
The Ghosn Sagas Latest Chapter
By fleeing Tokyo, where the former Nissan executive was facing trial for alleged financial wrongdoing, Carlos Ghosn took his dispute with the auto maker and Japanese authorities into an unexpected new stage. Related reading:
Mr. Kelly is prohibited from leaving Japan, but has never faced the same limits on his actions as Mr. Ghosn, who was restricted from contact with his wife and was prohibited from using the internet unsupervised.
Mr. Kelly said his pretrial routine has been early-morning runs on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, near his apartment, and eight-hour days at his attorneys office. There, he sifts manually through reams of electronic documents that prosecutors have provided and are using in his case. He typically breaks for luncha sandwich or a rice ball from a local convenience storeand resumes poring over documents on his computer.
I dont even know what a needle in the haystack analogue would be, but its beyond that, said
Jamie Wareham,
Mr. Kellys U.S. attorney. You have to do this all manually. It would take hundreds of lawyers, their entire lives to get through this data, he said.
Mr. Kelly isnt sure precisely what he is even looking for. A lot of these discussions took place five, six, seven years ago, he said. He said he was given the opportunity to cut a deal with prosecutors, but didnt. Ultimately, I had to tell the truth. My view is we tried, with legal advice, to take appropriate action to retain Carlos Ghosn. We didnt violate any criminal laws.
Mr. Kelly refused to be drawn to comment on Mr. Ghosns recent actions. The difference between Carlos Ghosn and me, right now, is that Im still in the system.
His wife,
Dee Kelly,
by his side, said Mr. Ghosn had to do what was right for him and his family. Its not really for me to say. It was probably a very difficult choice for him to make, but he took the choice.
Mr. Kelly said work at his attorneys office wraps up at around 6 p.m., when he returns to his one-bedroom apartment, decorated with family portraits. He has a large TV, where he and his wife have been watching their Tennessee Titans make a surprise run in the playoffs, or video chatting with family back home.
At Mr. Ghosns press conference in Lebanon on Jan. 8, Mr. Kelly watched his old boss defend his decision to flee. Mr. Ghosn praised Mr. Kellys refusal to cut a deal, calling him an honorable man and urged the world not to forget him.
If someone recognizes you like that it makes you feel pretty good, Mr. Kelly said.
Mrs. Kelly has been able to join her husband in Japan after enrolling in Japanese classes to get a student visa. The retired accountant saw it as the only viable way to be at her husbands side, even though she jokes about being a grandmother in a class full of students in their 20s. Her visa status depends on her maintaining her grades.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Kelly was awaiting spinal fusion surgery to address spinal stenosis, a compression of the spaces in the spinal cord. The condition leads to numbness, tingling and shooting pain in the extremities. Mr. Kelly had planned to skip a November 2018 Nissan meeting because of the planned operation, but a Nissan executive promised he would be home in time for his Dec. 7 surgery date. Instead Mr. Kelly was arrested and put in jail.
He later had the surgery in Japan, and he says he is happy with his Japanese doctor. The numbness in his limbs remains, and he has tripped and fallen several times on his morning runs as result. It is the inevitable side effect of getting old, Mr. Kelly says. I get back up and keep running. I dont want to sound like Im complaining. Im dealing with it, he said.
—Peter Landers contributed to this article.
Write to Sean McLain at sean.mclain@wsj.com
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