Mr. Kelly pleaded not guilty at the trial’s opening in Tokyo on Tuesday, according to Japanese media. He intends to argue that the discussions about Mr. Ghosn’s compensation never resulted in an actual payment or even a commitment to pay him, Mr. Wareham, his attorney, said. In other words, the reason nothing was reported to regulators was there was nothing to report.
Mr. Ghosn, who was also indicted on three separate charges, has repeatedly said that he is innocent. He has alleged that his arrest was the result of a corporate coup engineered by executives at Nissan determined to prevent a merger between the automaker and its French partner Renault. Nissan, which has also been charged but is cooperating with prosecutors, has denied that claim, saying that the investigation was solely motivated by concerns about executive wrongdoing.
Mr. Kelly’s defense team also subscribes to a version of Mr. Ghosn’s allegations.
“The case has nothing to do with guilt or innocence,” Mr. Wareham said. “It has everything to do with a corporate coup and efforts to allow Japanese citizens to lie and to entrap, all for the benefit of keeping Nissan Japanese. That’s what the whole case is about.”
Two of the Nissan employees Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly believe were at the heart of that coup received cooperation agreements from prosecutors in exchange for providing evidence against the men and testifying at trial. They continue to work at Nissan, where one of them served as head of the legal department until October.
In response to questions about the case, Nissan said that it “does not comment on pending litigation.”
As the trial opened Tuesday morning, prosecutors presented their opening statement, and Mr. Kelly, too, made remarks to the tribunal of judges who will decide the case’s outcome, according to NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster. Jury trials are the exception, not the rule, in Japan.