Ghosn, Ex-Nissan Chief, and Nissan Are Charged With Misstating His Pay

Posted December 10, 2018 11:02 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2018 11:06 a.m. EST

TOKYO — Prosecutors in Japan on Monday indicted Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan Motor, and the auto company itself on charges that they had violated financial laws by underreporting Ghosn’s compensation.

The indictment came three weeks after Japanese authorities arrested Ghosn, who was once among the auto industry’s most respected executives. The allegations have upended a carmaking empire that includes Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors in Japan and Renault in France.

In addition to the formal charges announced Monday, which cover allegations related to actions from 2011 to 2015, authorities rearrested Ghosn on similar charges stemming from a subsequent period. Ghosn, 64, remains in detention in Tokyo, where he has been held since being arrested Nov. 19.

Motonari Otsuru, a lawyer for Ghosn, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to the indictment, Nissan said in a statement that it would strengthen its compliance efforts. It did not deny the charges.

“Nissan takes this situation extremely seriously,” the statement said. “Making false disclosures in annual securities reports greatly harms the integrity of Nissan’s public disclosures in the securities markets, and the company expresses its deepest regret.”

Prosecutors also indicted Greg Kelly, a former Nissan human resources manager and member of the company’s board. Kelly, through his lawyer, Yoichi Kitamura, has denied wrongdoing. Kelly, like Ghosn, was rearrested Monday on allegations that he helped Ghosn underreport his compensation.

Nissan has said it uncovered misconduct by Ghosn that included underreporting his compensation and using company funds for personal expenses. In a news conference held the night Ghosn and Kelly were initially arrested, Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s chief executive, said Kelly “has been determined to be the mastermind of this matter, together with Carlos Ghosn.”

According to the indictment, Ghosn and Kelly understated Ghosn’s earnings from 2011 to 2015 by half in securities filings: 4.99 billion yen ($44.3 million) compared with 9.86 billion yen ($88.4 million), including bonuses. Nissan was indicted on charges of having misstated Ghosn’s compensation in filings with financial authorities.

Nissan, which conducted an internal inquiry into the alleged financial underreporting, removed Ghosn as chairman shortly after he was arrested and removed Kelly as executive director.

Ghosn was also removed from a similar position at Mitsubishi Motors. He remains chairman of Renault, but the French company has appointed Thierry Bolloré, its chief operating officer, to assume Ghosn’s day-to-day responsibilities.

In a new arrest warrant issued Monday, Tokyo prosectors said Ghosn and Kelly conspired to understate Ghosn’s pay in securities filings from June 2016 to June 2018. In the fillings, Ghosn’s compensation for the period was reported as 2.9 billion yen ($25.7 million). Prosecutors said they were investigating allegations that Ghosn was actually paid 7.17 billion yen ($63.6 million).

Prosecutors have yet to address allegations contained in Nissan’s internal report that Ghosn misused company funds for personal use.

A Nissan spokesman confirmed that the company had barred Ghosn’s family from a home the company bought for him in Rio de Janeiro.

“We believe that they would attempt to remove or destroy evidence,” said Nicholas Maxfield, a Nissan spokesman at the company’s headquarters in Yokohama. “And some of that evidence would be fairly incriminating.”

Legal experts in Japan said it was common for prosecutors to indict companies alongside individuals in financial crime cases.

“In this case it makes perfect sense,” said David Litt, a professor at Keio University Law School in Tokyo. “It would have been very hard for him to hide this without a number of people in the company knowing about it.”