What do you do when you are a foreigner far from home, stuck in a tiny apartment in Tokyo unable to speak the language, your movements restricted?

If your name is Greg Kelly and you are from Chicago, you watch the Chicago Cubs on the internet every chance you get, followed by the Chicago Bulls in the winter.

Kelly, a  lawyer, 64,  has been doing this for roughly three years, visited only by his wife Dee, unable to see his grand children back in the States.

If the name Greg Kelly sounds familiar, it’s because he was arrested along with  Renault/Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in November 2018 for “Conspiring to under report Carlos Ghosn compensation.”

Kelly spent five weeks in solitary confinement  the  Tokyo Detention Housebefore being released on bail to await  his trial.

Co-arrestee Ghosn , who had singlehandedly saved Nissan from bankruptcy and turned it into a global power, was indicted on the same charge, as well as other  unrelated alleged  offenses involving misuse of company funds in Nissan’s business in the Middle East.

Ghosn  spent 130 days in solitary confinement before being released on bail, and managed to escape from Japan December 30, 2019,  hidden inside a music equipment box that was wheeled onto a private jet bound for Istanbul. Declaring his innocence he claimed he couldn’t get a fair trial in Japan

This left  Kelly,  presumably arrested primarily so prosecutors  could force him to testify against Ghosn,  to face the music by himself.

The case, in which Kelly resolutely declared his innocence as well,  had its roots in fiscal 2010 when Ghosn’s $20 million  salary was cut to $10 million, prompted by  French business practices and  new executive  pay disclosure rules  in Japan. $20 million was in line with Ford CEO’s  $25 million, but much more than that of Toyota CEO, who didn’t even make $1 million. (By contrast, half a dozen NBA stars make $40 million a year)

The sole charge against Kelly, was whether an unfinalized agreement being considered by Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa, Kelly and others for Ghosn to continue a working relationship with Nissan after Ghosn retired  as Chairman should have been reported in the annual securities report as compensation.

Indictments had been issued after Nissan senior executives  Hari Nada and Toshiaki Ohnuma, alerted by Nissan auditors they might have violated the law in approving compensation and expenses plans for Ghosn, went to the prosecutor in September 2018 to earn immunity under Japan’s new plea bargaining laws, in exchange for fingering Ghosn and Kelly.

However, at Kelly’s trial, begun September 2020, when prosecutors presented as evidence tables on Ghosn’s “unpaid salary”  kept meticulously by another Nissan official,  defense attorneys introduced documents showing that Kelly had not known about the tables and that he had clearly advised Ghosn that any of his compensation as director could not be deferred without disclosure. They demonstrated that  NIissan CEO Saikawa, Kelly and others  were only trying to ensure that  Ghosn stayed connected to Nissan after his upcoming retirement as Chairman,  that Ghosn would provide a variety of post-retirement services and  not work for rival companies.  Documents further showed that  retirement compensation plans, estimated to be in the neighborhood of $100,000,000 over a period of around 10 years, were thoroughly vetted by internal and external lawyers, and had not even been finalized.  

There was evidence that Ghosn and Kelly were caught in an internal Nissan coup by executives who opposed a proposed merger with Renault that Ghosn and Kelly strongly supported.

Indeed, there was evidence that as early as  spring 2018  a Nissan official had gone to METi about blocking the merger and was advised to go to the prosecutor’s office. Nada had lured Kelly back to Japan, despite knowing Kelly was scheduled for major spinal surgery, allowing police to arrest Kelly as he departed Narita  Airport.


Greg Kelly, who spent 27 years with Nissan, leaving in 2015 to retire in Nashville,  is described by people who know him as  ‘decent, hard working, sincere, honest.” A deeply religious man Kelly believed the courts would eventually find him innocent

The case has captured the attention of America. One of many voices arguing Greg was ‘set up’ is  that of US Senator Bill Hagerty, former US Ambassador to Japan, who claims that Kelly was a victim of Japan’s “Hostage Justice” system.

Senator Roger Wicker took to the Senate floor to say “This needless ordeal sends  a message: if you do business in Japan, watch your back.  When it suits Japanese, they could set a trap for you.”

The Wall Street Journal , covering the trial, stated in print  that Ghosn and Kelly should be acquitted.

Roger Schreffler, a  veteran reporter for Ward’s Automotive,  also declared  Greg Kelly innocent in a recent  Asia Times article. He  produced evidence of an exculpatory interview with Nada and a team of lawyers  on July 3, 2019,  in which Nada asserted that he  Kelly and Saikawa  clearly understood that any potential future agreement entered with Ghosn after Ghosn retired would be designed to compensate [Ghosn] for post-retirement services only.

Schreffler deemed the affair ‘a punishment in search of a crime.’

Even former PM Shinzo Abe has stated it was not a criminal case.

Both Nada and Ohnuma remained with Nissan.  But Nissan CEO Saikawa, who was implicated in a separate payout scandal, was compelled to resign–although not indicted.

It is noteworthy that the only persons indicted in the matter were both foreigners

It brought to mind the unpleasant experience of Bobby Valentine, who was the victim of a Lotte front office smear campaign in  2009 designed to make him quit, as well as  the travails of  superstar Randy Bass in 1988, when Hanshin Tigers  fraudulently tried to wiggle out of a contract to pay for his son’s expensive brain operation in San Francisco by releasing him.

Greg Kelly was once a fan of the Yokohama Bay Starts back in the years 2008-2012 when he lived in Yokohama and was a member of the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club.

Greg says “I can’t follow Japanese sports anymore. Not after what I have experienced.”

The constitution of Japan guarantees a speedy trial. The 3.5 years Kelly has been caught up in the case is not ‘speedy’. It is nearly as long as Shohei Ohtani’s MLB career. During that time, not surprisingly, Nissan has sunk deeper in debt.

A verdict in Kelly’s  trial, completed in in October 2021, will be rendered  March 3, 2022.

New ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel has stated that Kelly’s freedom  will be his top priority.


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