Greg Kelly, a Nissan board member and a key lieutenant of Carlos Ghosn, has been released on bail after five weeks in detention, even as his former boss is expected to remain behind bars until at least the new year.
The latest episode in Nissan’s corporate meltdown, which has captivated Japan and thrown an international spotlight on its justice system, was broadcast live by the state-owned NHK. Mr Kelly, who was accompanied by his Japanese lawyer, appeared expressionless as he was led from the glass front doors of the Tokyo Detention Centre into a waiting taxi.
His car, pursued by cameramen on motorcycles and followed from the air by media helicopters, drove on largely empty late-night roads to an undisclosed location. His lawyer has said Mr Kelly, who suffers from a back condition and had, according to his family, been due to receive surgery, would receive treatment at a Tokyo hospital as soon as he was released.
The release on Christmas Day came after the Tokyo court rejected an appeal by Japanese prosecutors to hold the American executive, who posted a bail of ¥70m ($650,000) through his lawyer.
In an earlier statement released to the media on Sunday, Mr Kelly, 62, said he believed he would be found innocent in court. “I hope to receive a not-guilty verdict, restore my honour and return home to my family as soon as possible,” he said.
His wife, Donna “Dee” Kelly, had urged Japanese prosecutors to release her husband so that he could receive surgery for a spinal ailment. In a video message, Ms Kelly alleged that her husband had been “lured” to attend in person a board meeting in Japan that he would otherwise have participated in by video conference. Along with Mr Ghosn, Mr Kelly was arrested immediately after landing in Tokyo on November 19.
Mr Kelly was later charged with conspiring with Mr Ghosn to understate the former Nissan chairman’s pay by $44m over a five-year period.
There were hopes that both Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly would be released on bail before Christmas after prosecutors on Thursday suffered an extremely rare knock-back from the Tokyo court when they attempted to extend the two men’s detention.
But the case took a further dramatic turn the following day when Mr Ghosn was arrested on fresh allegations that he had reassigned personal investment losses to the carmaker. The Tokyo court further ruled on Sunday that Mr Ghosn could be detained without bail until January 1.
The latest arrest did not affect Mr Kelly, who had lived in Tennessee after giving up most of his operational duties at Nissan.
Ahead of his release, Mr Kelly’s lawyer, Yoichi Kitamura, said the court’s decision on his release was probably influenced by his medical needs.
His wife had warned that his condition, which included numbness, tingling and shooting pains, could become permanent if he did not undergo a surgery in the next two months.
Mr Kitamura said his client planned to receive treatment at a Japanese hospital since the court had put restrictions on Mr Kelly leaving the country.
Mr Kelly has earlier protested that he had done nothing illegal and that the disclosure of Mr Ghosn’s pay was made in consultation with external experts, according to Mr Kitamura.
Mr Ghosn, who remains chairman and chief executive of French carmaker Renault, also maintains his innocence, according to a person familiar with his legal defence.
Following an internal investigation, Nissan has also accused Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly as being the “masterminds” behind a series of misconduct including the understatement of pay and the use of company expenses for personal use.
Mr Kelly was removed as one of Nissan’s three representative directors following last month’s board meeting but he remains a company director.
Nissan declined to comment on Mr Kelly’s release but it said its investigation into the actions of Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly continued. “Nissan’s internal investigation uncovered substantial and convincing evidence of misconduct, resulting in an unanimous board vote to dismiss Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director,” it said.