Nissan ex-CEO tells Japanese court Ghosn's pay was too low

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FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, then Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa speaks during a press conference in the automaker's headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Former Nissan Chief Executive Saikawa told a Japanese court Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, he believed the compensation for his predecessor Carlos Ghosn was too low by international standards, and so he supported Ghosns retirement packages to prevent him from leaving. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

TOKYO – Former Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told a Japanese court Wednesday he believed the compensation for his predecessor Carlos Ghosn was too low “by international standards,” and so he supported Ghosn’s retirement packages to prevent him from leaving.

“Mr. Ghosn had outstanding abilities and achievements,” Saikawa said, testifying in Tokyo District Court in the criminal trial of Greg Kelly, a former senior executive at Nissan Motor Co.

“We needed to prepare for Mr. Ghosn’s eventual retirement to keep him motivated and to have him continue to work for Nissan,” he said in answer to a prosecutor’s questioning.

Saikawa worked closely with Ghosn and succeeded Ghosn as CEO in 2017. After Ghosn was arrested in November 2018, he denounced Ghosn.

Saikawa resigned in September 2019 after questions over his own compensation surfaced. He denied wrongdoing and was not charged.

He struck a sympathetic tone Tuesday, telling the court he signed several draft documents on remuneration packages for Ghosn, including retirement pay, consultant fees and a non-compete agreement to prevent him from moving to a competitor.

Kelly, who was overseeing the compensation plans, is asserting his innocence in the trial that began last year. An American, he has been charged with financial misconduct in failing to fully disclose Ghosn’s future compensation. No one at Nissan apart from Ghosn and Kelly has been charged.

Ghosn led Nissan for two decades, salvaging the Japanese automaker from the brink of collapse. He is accused of under-reporting his income by about 1 billion yen ($10 million) a year over several years and of breach of trust.