TOKYO — Greg Kelly, a former Nissan Motor America executive accused of underreporting the pay of boss Carlos Ghosn, has been given a suspended sentence by a Tokyo court, but he has been cleared of most of the charges.

The six-month suspended three-year sentence, announced Thursday, will allow Kelly to return to the United States pending an appeal. Kelly’s defense attorneys said they will appeal. It is unclear whether prosecutors will do the same.

Kelly appeared calm during the trial, and later said he was shocked by the verdict.

“I have always acted in Nissan’s best interests, and I have never been involved in illegal conduct,” said Kelly, who plans to return to Tennessee.

The court acquitted Kelly on some counts, but found him guilty only in the eight years of allegedly underreporting compensation. The defense team said this was unacceptable.

“Kelly is completely innocent. We cannot accept the wrongful verdict that found him guilty in his final year,” the defense, led by Yoichi Kitamura, said in a statement.

Kelly was arrested in November 2018 at the same time as Ghosn, the former Nissan chairman and head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. Both have maintained their innocence and that the money was never paid or decided.

The Tokyo District Court trial began in September 2020, after Ghosn was absent on bail in late 2019, hiding in a musical instrument case on his private jet. He fled to Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan, and has been writing books and films about his experiences.

At Thursday’s meeting, Chief Justice Kenji Shimotsu repeatedly attacked Ghosn, telling the court Ghosn had shown greed and malice in Nissan’s “dictatorship.” He said Nissan’s misguided governance misled investors and had damaging effects.

Shimotsu said Ghosn made arrangements for his compensation “totally out of his personal greed.”

“His motives were absolutely unexcusable,” he said.

Ghosn called the verdict a “face sentence” for prosecutors and other Nissan executives whom he accused of colluding with him, Kelly, Renault and all shareholders.

“I’m relieved for Greg and his family,” Ghosn said in a Zoom call with a small group of reporters.

Ghosn has denied allegations that he conspired with another Nissan executive, Toshiaki Ohnuma, to calculate unpaid damages and try to pay them in secret at a later date. He repeated his complaints about “hostage justice” in Japan, where suspects are frequently convicted, with a conviction rate of more than 99 percent.

“This story is far from over. Justice is far from being served,” Ghosn said.

Prosecutors had called for Kelly to be sentenced to two years in prison. They accused Ghosn, Kelly and Nissan of understating Ghosn’s compensation by 9 billion yen ($78 million) in filings over the eight years to 2018. Kelly and his defenders said it was done only to prevent Ghosn from jumping to a competitor.

During the trial, prosecutors presented various documents calculating what Ghosn called “deferred damages” as evidence. Nissan pleaded guilty and paid a 200 million yen ($1.7 million) fine.

Judge Shimotsu acknowledged that the evidence did not directly link Kelly to what he called a “conspiracy” between Ghosn and Onuma. He also said Onuma’s testimony was important but not entirely reliable because he had a plea deal.

“His credibility deserves special attention,” Shimotsu said. “As an accomplice, he risks putting the blame on Ghosn.”

But he accused Kelly of putting Ghosn’s interests ahead of Nissan’s.

Ghosn led Nissan for nearly 20 years after his French alliance partner Renault sent him to lead the nearly bankrupt Japanese automaker’s turnaround. His downfall was sudden, with Nissan officials close to him accusing him of amassing power for personal gain and planning to merge Nissan with Renault.

Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, while Nissan, which makes the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury model, owns 15 percent of Renault. Nissan, headquartered in the port city of Yokohama, owns a 34 percent stake in small Japanese automaker Tokyo-Mitsubishi Motors. The French government owns 15 percent of Renault.

Japanese executives are paid far less than their American counterparts. When Japan began requiring disclosure of high executive compensation in 2010, Ghosn’s compensation of about $9.5 million, even without deferred compensation, drew attention.

Kelly was released on bail and has been living in Tokyo with his wife. He was hired by Nissan’s U.S. division in 1988 and became a representative director in 2012, becoming the first American on Nissan’s board of directors. He works primarily in legal counsel and human resources.

Separately, two Americans who were extradited from the United States to Japan on charges of smuggling Ghosn out of Japan were convicted last year. Michael Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison and his son Peter to one year and eight months.

Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee, welcomed Kelly’s planned return to school.

“Greg is going home,” Hagerty said. “Greg has been through situations unimaginable by corporate America. What should have been discussed in the company’s board room fell to the Tokyo prosecutor’s office.”

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