The devoted employee who signed the checks to Carlos Ghosn balances his ex-boss

The devoted employee who signed the checks to Carlos Ghosn balances his ex-boss

Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on September 29.

© Hussein Malla
Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on September 29.

The trial of Greg Kelly, the ex-right-hand man of the fugitive big boss, is underway in Tokyo and the hearings are instructive. Toshiaki Ohnuma recounted how he paid Ghosn bonuses and deferred wages in an occult manner. A damning testimony.

“Dear Mr. Ghosn, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected as a beneficiary of the Long Term Incentive Program under which you will have the possibility of receiving an exceptional payment …” This letter is intended for Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan. It is signed … from the pen of Carlos Ghosn, then CEO of Nissan. It is one of the many exhibits presented this week by prosecutors at the Tokyo court, during the hearings of the trial of Greg Kelly, the former right-hand man of the former boss of the Renault-Nissan Alliance at the manufacturer Japanese, currently on trial in Tokyo for his alleged complicity in Ghosn’s actions. The latter fled Japan to take refuge in Beirut in Lebanon during an incredible escape at the end of 2019 and will therefore not respond to accusations of financial malfeasance to which it is the subject by the Japanese justice. But Kelly, no more than the other protagonists of the affair, does not intend to take the hat off to the fugitive.

It must be said that the documents cited at the trial are rather meaningful. Special feature of the payment letter from Carlos Ghosn to Ghosn: there are several copies with different dates for four successive years, from April 2009 to March 2013. But all the copies were produced at the same time, in April 2013… “They’re all backdated. You also had to give the impression that the incentive program in question was intended for several people, even if in reality it was only for him, Ghosn. “ These words are those of the former head of Nissan’s general secretariat, Toshiaki Ohnuma. This frail sixty-year-old testifies all this month of October. Since 2010, he was responsible for finding a scheme so that the salaries of Carlos Ghosn declared to shareholders do not exceed the annual amount deemed “reasonable” of one billion yen (eight million euros). Except that, in reality, Ghosn wanted more, double. This is what he earned before 2010 at Nissan without having to specify it in the company’s financial reports.

«Dear Mister Ghosn»

But, in 2010, the law changes and so does Ohnuma’s life. From that moment, he is embroiled in a case that ends up overtaking him: a good disciplined Japanese employee, he bent over backwards to put together many plans so that «Dear Mister Ghosn» does not suffer from any shortfall. Ohnuma is doing his best, he is happy when, in a table presented to the CEO, he had planned a “bonus” box in which the boss was able to write himself with his blue ink fountain pen “200 million yen”, the equivalent of 1.6 million euros. He wanted a bonus that year. Ohnuma remembers thinking then: “I did well to plan this box.” For Ohnuma had, he said, been directly charged by Ghosn with “Manage your compensation in three categories: fixed compensation, paid compensation and deferred compensation”.

What Ghosn or others ask him to do, he conscientiously does: create a front subsidiary in the Netherlands, another in Dubai, fabricate false documents. But one by one, the plans fell through, deemed dangerous, infeasible. And Ohnuma had to go back to coal, find something else. For years, he made every effort to: “Carlos Ghosn’s deferred payments were an extremely confidential matter, it was important that this not be known, neither internally nor externally”, he said in response to questions from the prosecutor. The slow-going interrogation is extremely precise. Sometimes the witness is mistaken, corrects, does not dare to say that he is tired, hesitates to drink the water placed in front of him. The prosecutor treats him with respect, because the man is in his camp. He is one of the star witnesses before Hari Nada, another Nissan official.

Astronomical amounts

They are the “whistleblowers”, they who sold the fuse to the authorities, they who brought their files out of the cupboards and offered them to the investigators. On the screens of the courtroom are projected tables which recapitulate Ghosn’s past and future emoluments, with astronomical amounts (up to 178 million dollars, approximately 151 million euros), emails, letters -chords written in laborious English but initialed. Sometimes these documents present almost illegible, trembling, crooked handwritten inscriptions. “These are notes I took during a meeting with Carlos Ghosn”, says Ohnuma who can no longer read himself. Was he so impressed with Japan’s most charismatic boss? The rest of the hearings confirms this. He couldn’t clearly tell Ghosn, “it’s impossible”.

After having undergone several checks by Nissan’s audit firm and tax officials, Ohnuma understands the danger of having provisioned under a spurious pretext of $ 80 million for Ghosn, an amount that was to be paid to him under still ill-defined terms. , but whose amounts year by year were very precise. Ohnuma, who fears for himself, finally ends up telling Ghosn: we must cancel. The change in attitude of the devoted Secretary General stems from the remorse that has tormented him since that day in 2015 when he knowingly transmitted to the auditors “Lists of falsified names and amounts”. «I still regret it today. ” What happened to the “Deferred compensation” by Ghosn? We will know at future hearings but, in the immediate future, the accused Kelly, who takes notes very calmly, seems to be wondering what he is doing there, and the room with him.


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