Nissan's Carlos Ghosn indicted for underreporting pay

Nissan chairman fired and arrested

TOKYO - Prosecutors have charged former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn, another Nissan executive and the automaker itself for allegedly underreporting income. The charges imposed Monday involve allegations that Ghosn's pay was underreported by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) in 2011-2015. The prosecutors said earlier the allegations were the reason for Ghosn's arrest on Nov. 19.

The arrest of an industry icon admired both in Japan and around the world has stunned many and raised concerns over the Japanese automaker and the future of its alliance with Renault of France.

The prosecutors issued statements Monday outlining new allegations against Ghosn and Greg Kelly, the other Nissan executive. Those involve underreporting another 4 billion yen ($36 million) in 2016-2018. The latest allegations didn't give details about the income thought to have been underreported.

In Japan, a company can be charged with wrongdoing. And Nissan confirmed the charges against it in a statement and vowed to strengthen its governance and compliance. "Nissan takes this situation extremely seriously," it 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."

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A court date is still undecided as the prosecutors continue to question Ghosn and Kelly. The maximum penalty for violating Japan's financial laws, as the prosecutors allege, is 10 years in prison, a 10 million yen ($89,000) fine or both.

Some kind of action by the prosecutors had been expected because the detention period allowed for the allegations disclosed earlier was to end on Monday.

Kelly, 62, an American, is suspected of having collaborated with Ghosn. Kelly's attorney in the U.S., Aubrey Harwell, told The Associated Press earlier this month his client is asserting his innocence. He said insiders at Nissan and outside experts had said the handling of the income reporting was legal.

Ghosn has not commented.

He was ousted as Nissan chairman and Kelly lost his representative director title following their arrests. They both remain on Nissan's board pending a shareholder's meeting.

Star-level compensation

Ghosn, 64, was sent to Nissan by its partner Renault of France in 1999. He led a dramatic turnaround of the near-bankrupt Japanese automaker. But his star-level compensation drew attention since executives in Japan tend to be paid far less than their international counterparts.

It's typical in the Japanese legal system for there to be little access to comment by suspects. Prosecutors have also said little.

Only Ghosn's attorneys and embassy officials from Lebanon, France and Brazil, where he has citizenship, have been allowed to visit him.

Shin Kukimoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office, declined Monday to say if the suspects were rejecting the allegations. He said Ghosn and Kelly were being detained because they are considered flight risks.

He also denied that the two would be forced to make confessions. Japan's criminal justice system has been criticized for detaining people for long periods to pressure them to confess. The conviction rate for those charged is more than 99 percent.

"We do not have such a scenario. There is no such thing, and we do not force suspects to make confessions to fit the story," Kukimoto said in response to a reporter's question.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it had filed criminal complaints against Ghosn, Nissan and Kelly. A commission official said Monday that Nissan, Ghosn and Kelly were suspected of falsifying reports on millions of dollars' worth of Ghosn's income.

Nissan has said an internal investigation found three types of misconduct: underreporting income to financial authorities, using investment funds for personal gain and illicit use of company expenses.