Greg Kelly: U.S. Hostage of Japanese Justice

Greg Kelly: U.S. Hostage of Japanese Justice
(Kyodo News via AP)
Greg Kelly: U.S. Hostage of Japanese Justice
(Kyodo News via AP)
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It was worldwide news when Carlos Ghosn, former chairman and CEO of Nissan, took a daring, overnight flight from Tokyo to Beirut last December and became an international fugitive rather than face what he called the injustice of the Japanese legal system.

Less attention has been given to the ongoing tragedy of Mr. Ghosn’s former deputy, an American named Greg Kelly, who was arrested in November 2018 in connection with alleged fraud and financial wrongdoing at Nissan. 

Mr. Ghosn, a Lebanese mogul who turned the flagging Nissan company into an international auto powerhouse, is accused of secretly arranging to receive millions of dollars, allegedly with Mr. Kelly’s help. Mr. Kelly, like Mr. Ghosn, vehemently denies the allegations. Mr. Kelly, who expected to be tried alongside Mr. Ghosn, was released from jail on Christmas Day 2018, but he is still waiting for a trial date.  

Last April, more than 1,000 Japanese academics and lawyers signed a letter written and circulated by Human Rights Watch criticizing Japan’s hitojichi-shiho, or “hostage justice,” system. A number of Americans know this all too well. Mr. Kelly is now its leading example.

His predicament is a cautionary tale for Americans thinking about working in Japan, raising serious questions about whether non-Japanese executives can comfortably work in Japan under its legal system. 

Mr. Kelly, who lived in both Japan and Tennessee as a Nissan executive, was a respected and loyal Nissan employee who joined the company in 1988. He rose steadily in the company and in June 2012 became the first American to join Nissan’s board. But shortly before Thanksgiving 2018, Mr. Kelly’s decades-long career at the automaker came to a crashing halt. That’s when Nissan executives “lured” Mr. Kelly from Tennessee back to Japan, where they launched a “boardroom coup” and had him arrested upon his arrival, according to Dee Kelly, his wife.

Mr. Kelly was kept in solitary confinement for five weeks without a bed or, initially, a pillow, she said. He suffered chronic neck pain and was scheduled to undergo surgery in Tennessee right before he was lured back to Japan, his wife said. He was eventually permitted to have surgery in Japan, but Dee Kelly said the delay and the conditions of his incarceration caused his health to deteriorate and the surgery did not relieve his symptoms.   

Mr. Kelly, who currently spends his time in Tokyo preparing for his court case, said that during most of his confinement, he was interrogated for several hours a day without legal counsel present. In addition, as reported by the New York Times, Japanese officials have refused to allow him and his lawyers electronic access to documents they plan to use in his case.

Japanese prosecutors have charged only foreign defendants — Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly — in the case. However, in a June 2019 interview with the Japanese magazine “Bungei Shunju,” Mr. Kelly said that Hiroto Saikawa, who was appointed Nissan’s chief executive following Mr. Ghosn’s arrest, approved the compensation plans that led to the arrests.

In June 2019 article in Forbes, Mr. Kelly said, “How come Ghosn and I were suddenly arrested without one instance of being asked to explain and no discussions or meeting on the subject?”  In September 2019, Mr. Saikawa resigned as Nissan’s CEO after it was widely reported that he admitted inflating his compensation by changing the date when he could cash in company stock. 

Mr. Kelly's legal battle is made tougher by Japan’s alarmingly high conviction rate and because the chief witness in his case, Mr. Ghosn, has fled to Lebanon and is not available to testify.

Despite all of this, Mr. Kelly has said, “I am very proud to have worked for this amazing company, Nissan, for over 30 years. It has been an honor.”

The states we represent in the U.S. Senate have greatly benefitted from the U.S.-Japan relationship and we want to see that partnership strengthened, not weakened. Our concern is expressed as longtime friends of Japan. 

Each of us remembers what Mike Mansfield, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, always said: “The U.S.-Japan relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none.” If Americans and other non-Japanese executives question their ability to be treated fairly in Japan, then that most important bilateral relationship in the world is at risk.

Sen. Roger Wicker is from Mississippi. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn represent Tennessee. All are Republicans.

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