TOKYO – Former Nissan director Greg Kelly, cleared on most counts and handed a suspended sentence in the long-running Tokyo trial over alleged financial misconduct by Carlos Ghosn, teared up with joy as he was welcomed back to Tennessee Monday by U.S. Sen. William Hagerty.
Kelly said coming home after his three-year legal odyssey in Japan was “like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,” as he choked up with emotion during a livestreamed press conference from Nashville. “There’s no place like home,” said Kelly, flanked by the senator and his wife Dee.
Hagerty, R-Tenn., greeted Kelly and his wife March 14 as they returned to the city where Kelly built a career working for Nissan’s North American operations, eventually climbing the ranks to eventually be a director at the parent company in Japan.
Hagerty, who was U.S. ambassador to Japan at the time of Kelly’s arrest in 2018, praised Kelly for building bridges between the U.S. and Japan while working for Nissan Motor Co.
“He’s helped build the economic alliance between the United States and Japan for decades. He’s had an incredible career at one of the most important companies here in Tennessee, a company that has built its presence here and employs thousands of Tennesseans,” Hagerty said.
“Greg was looking forward to his retirement from that storied career, and unfortunately, his retirement was cut short,” Hagerty said. “It took over three years to get him home.”
Hagerty said that Kelly’s return to the U.S. should pave the way for stronger American ties with Japan, a longtime ally and trading partner of the U.S. in East Asia.
“We need to get back to our strategic alliance with Japan,” Hagerty said. “I think that having this situation, getting you home, allows us to focus much more on the strategic issues that we’ve got with Japan, and our alliance needs to be stronger and will be stronger as a result.”
Kelly, speaking at an airport conference room with the U.S. colors and Tennessee state flag behind him, praised the Senate Republican for his support during his Japan legal battle.
As ambassador, Hagerty helped arrange delivery of warm clothes to Kelly during his December lockup in a cold Tokyo jail and helped expedite his release on bail for neck surgery, Kelly said.
“Words can’t really adequately describe how grateful we are for everything he has done for us,” Kelly said of Hagerty, who left the Tokyo diplomatic mission in 2019 to run for the Senate in 2020.
Kelly, 65, went on to describe the allegations against him as an internal corporate matter than Nissan should have handled in the board room, not by going to prosecutors.
“My prosecution was a direct result of a coup engineered by a few senior Japanese executives to oust Carlos Ghosn, because they didn’t want Renault, a French car company, to merge with Nissan,” Kelly said. “It was an issue that should have been resolved by Nissan’s board.”
After a 17-month trial before the Tokyo District Court, Kelly was found guilty March 3 of aiding Ghosn, the former Chairman of Nissan and Renault, during just one of eight years under scrutiny by prosecutors. Kelly was cleared of any wrongdoing in the other seven years.
A three-judge panel gave Kelly a six-month suspended sentence.
Under the terms of Kelly’s suspended sentence, the Tennessee lawyer and former human resources executive was allowed to return to the U.S.
Kelly’s defense team has filed an appeal against the guilty verdict, insisting on full vindication for their client. Meanwhile, Tokyo prosecutors are weighing their own appeal.
The appeals process is expected to last another year.
“The judge ruled in our favor on everything except for one minor issue,” Kelly said, adding that he essentially “won” the case. “And we’ll appeal that.”
Prosecutors accused Ghosn and Kelly of hiding some 9.3 billion yen ($80.5 million) in postponed compensation from 2010 to 2018. Both men, arrested the same day in 2018, deny wrongdoing.
But after Ghosn fled Japan for Lebanon in 2019, Kelly was left to fight the charges alone.