Former Nissan exec Kelly gets support ahead of U.S.-Japan summit

TOKYO – Indicted former Nissan director Greg Kelly, still on trial in Tokyo, got a shot of support from Washington ahead of this week’s summit between President Joe Biden and Japan’s prime minister, with a prominent U.S. senator calling Kelly’s treatment a stain on Japan.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi defended Kelly as “blameless,” and said Japan’s treatment of the American defendant is a red flag for international businesspeople dealing with the country.

Wicker also criticized Japan’s justice system for moving too slow and denying defendants access to evidence and said Kelly was a victim of collusion between Nissan and the Japanese government.

“It is a stain on Japan, and it is a cautionary event for Americans who might want to do business in Japan or with Japanese entities,” Wicker told Automotive News in an interview. “It is a shameful practice by a government that purports to be democratic and relies on our alliance.”

Wicker, who has protested Kelly’s treatment to the Japanese foreign ministry before, was using the occasion of this Friday’s first summit meeting in Washington between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Biden’s first with a foreign leader, to dial up the heat again.

Kelly has been on trial since September, fighting allegations he helped former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn hide more than $80 million in deferred compensation supposedly owed Ghosn. Both men were arrested in a coordinated swoop after they landed in Japan on Nov. 19, 2018.

Both Ghosn and Kelly deny any wrongdoing but Kelly was left to stand trial alone after Ghosn jumped bail and fled to Lebanon in 2019. Kelly faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Testimony in Kelly’s trial is expected to end in July, but a verdict could take many more months.

Ghosn contends that a cabal of Nissan insiders targeted him with concocted allegations in an effort to block his plans to integrate Nissan and Renault under a holding company.

Wicker backed Kelly’s assertion that he is innocent and collateral damage in a corporate coup.

“The more we shine a light on their outrageous actions, the more beneficial it is for them to make amends in this situation and get this situation over with,” Wicker said of Japan’s prosecution of Kelly. “As long as this trial goes on, I’m going to keep talking about it.”

Wicker has been an outspoken supporter of Kelly, penning editorials and open letters in his defense and denouncing Kelly’s treatment in Japan on the floor of the Senate.

The Republican lawmaker, whose state hosts a Nissan assembly plant, wrote another op-ed for The Washington Times to highlight Kelly’s case ahead of the Biden-Suga summit. In it, Wicker criticized Kelly’s treatment under Japan’s justice system as “inhumane” and “unforgiving.”

“A fair trial is out of the question, particularly since the chief witness in the case — Carlos Ghosn — has fled the country,” Wicker wrote. “Japan, for its own sake, needs to right this wrong and bring an end to this highly visible stain on its international reputation.”

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