Prosecutors charge Ex-Nissan boss with under-reporting his income

Japanese prosecutors charge Ex-Nissan boss with under-reporting his income by £34.5MILLION over five years

  • Carlos Ghosn joined Nissan in 1999 and turned the ailing car-maker around
  • He stepped down as CEO last year and was then arrested in Tokyo last month
  • Prosecutors say he underreported £34.5million in income from 2010 to 2015
  • He and fellow Nissan executive Greg Kelly are then  jointly charged with underreporting another £28million from 2015 until 2018

Tokyo prosecutors have accused Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn, another executive and the automaker itself of underreporting income.

Ghosn, who was arrested on November 19, was charged on Monday with underreporting his income by 5billion yen ($44million) over the course of five years.

Later the same day charges were added against Ghosn and Greg Kelly, the other executive, of underreporting another 4billion yen ($36million) in more recent years. 

Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan, has been charged with underreporting his income by at least $44million over five years

Ghosn is facing up to 10 years in jail if convicted. 

Nissan as a company was not mentioned in the latest allegations. In Japan, a company can be charged with wrongdoing.


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Moves by prosecutors to formally charge Ghosn came on the day that his detention period was set to end following his arrest.  

Greg Kelly, another Nissan executive, is accused of helping Ghosn underreport another $36million in more recent years

Kelly, 62, is suspected of having collaborated with Ghosn. Kelly’s attorney in the U.S. says he is asserting his innocence.

Ghosn has not commented.

Ghosn has been ousted as Nissan chairman and Kelly lost his representative director title, following their arrests, but they both remain on the board.

Ghosn, 64, was sent to Nissan by its partner Renault SA of France in 1999. He led a dramatic turnaround of the near-bankrupt Japanese automaker. 

But Ghosn’s star-level pay drew attention since executives in Japan tend to be paid far less than their international counterparts.

Only Ghosn’s attorneys and embassy officials from Lebanon, France and Brazil, where he has citizenship, have been allowed to visit him.

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it had filed criminal complaints against Ghosn, Nissan and Kelly. 

A commission official said Monday that Nissan, Ghosn and Kelly were suspected of falsifying reports on millions of dollars’ worth of Ghosn’s income. 

Nissan itself has also been accused as part of the case because under Japanese law companies can be charged with wrongdoing

The scandal facing Nissan’s former boss, explained

What are the accusations?

Ghosn was arrested on November 19 over allegations he under-reported his compensation for the five years to 2015. The arrest gave prosecutors 22 days to hold Ghosn while they investigated the claims.

On Monday, they formally charged him over the accusation but also re-arrested him on separate allegations that he under-reported his earnings for an additional three years from 2015.

That restarts the clock on Ghosn’s detention, allowing prosecutors to hold him for up to another 22 days as they investigate the second accusation.

Suspects who have been charged can also be held in pre-trial detention under Japanese law.

There is no formal limit on the number of times prosecutors can re-arrest Ghosn on separate charges, restarting the 22-day clock each time.

But in practice, experts say, suspects are rarely re-arrested more than three times.

What does Ghosn say?

There has been no statement from Ghosn since his arrest, though media reports say he and his right-hand man Greg Kelly, who was arrested at the same time, deny any wrongdoing.

Ghosn has reportedly admitted signing documents to defer part of his salary until retirement, but says he and Kelly believed this compensation did not have to be reported because it was not yet definitively fixed.

‘The two key points are… was it certain that the payment was going to be made? And did Carlos Ghosn know?,’ said Yasuyuki Takai, a former prosecutor at the unit investigating Ghosn.

‘If in good faith Ghosn was unaware of a guarantee on the deferred compensation, then he should plead that way. But if the payment was guaranteed, he’d be better off saying so,’ Takai told AFP.

Who else is implicated?

The only person under arrest with Ghosn is Kelly. But prosecutors Monday also filed charges against Nissan for violating securities rules by submitting documents that allegedly misrepresented Ghosn’s compensation.

Experts say it is likely that some officials at Nissan were implicated in the alleged scheme to under-report Ghosn’s compensation, but there have been reports that prosecutors have used a new plea bargaining law to make deals with them.

‘That would theoretically allow them to avoid prosecution, or at least receive some consideration in exchange for their active contribution to the investigation,’ said Takai.

What’s next for Ghosn?

Ghosn now looks likely to remain in a five-square-metre cell in Tokyo at least until the end of 2018.

Prosecutors may then indict him on the second allegation against him, and could also re-arrest him on new accusations.

When the clock runs out on his pre-charge detention, Ghosn can seek bail, though it is not guaranteed.

A trial in the case is not likely to start for months, and could drag on given the complexity of the case and the international scrutiny that comes with Ghosn’s high profile.

‘If he is only charged with the years of false declarations about his compensation, he could get a reprieve,’ said Takai.

‘But if they add a charge for abuse of corporate assets, he could get seven to eight years in prison.’ 

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