A corporate jet believed to have taken Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn to Haneda Airport remains parked on the evening of Nov. 19. (Video footage by Nobuo Fujiwara)

Prosecutors used the new plea-bargaining system to snare Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn, but that was not the only unusual aspect in the white-collar crime investigation.

Ghosn was arrested on Nov. 19 on suspicion of under-reporting his remuneration in violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law, which is normally used to prosecute corporate window-dressing.

The arrest of such a high-profile executive caught industry watchers off-guard, although the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office was well-prepared, having dispatched investigative units to three related locations.

Investigative sources said the arrest was made possible through the cooperation of a Nissan official through the plea-bargaining system, which started in Japan in June largely to uncover white-collar crimes that are difficult to bring to court.

Under the system, lower level suspects can receive lighter charges and sentences if they provide evidence that implicates their bosses.

The first use of the plea-bargaining system in Japan involved suspected bribery of Thai government officials by employees of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd.

A former board member and two former senior officials were indicted on charges of bribing foreign civil servants. But the company was absolved of any guilt in exchange for cooperation in the case, leading to criticism that prosecutors had used the plea-bargaining arrangement to go after “small fry.”

Ghosn is the first top corporate executive targeted in a plea-bargaining case.

An agreement was reached to reduce criminal penalties for those working under Ghosn who cooperated with prosecutors in the investigation, sources said.

Prosecutors also arrested Greg Kelly, a representative board member who is considered close to Ghosn, on suspicion of violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law.

Ghosn is believed to have under-reported his income in the annual securities reports that Nissan files.

Normally in cases of suspected false entries in corporate securities reports, prosecutors focus on attempts by top executives to inflate profit and other figures to conceal the company’s poor financial condition.

However, in Nissan’s case, prosecutors decided to focus on entries personally related to Ghosn.

Prosecutors said over the five-year period between 2010 and 2014, Ghosn reported only about 4.987 billion yen ($44.2 million) in income as Nissan chairman when he in fact received about 9.998 billion yen.

The penal provisions in the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law for individuals are a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or a maximum fine of 10 million yen.

Nissan as a company could also be fined up to 700 million yen if the legal violations are related to its business operations.

Company shareholders and others had long said Ghosn was being paid too much--even at the allegedly reduced levels included in the financial reports.

According to records compiled by Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd., Ghosn received 891 million yen from Nissan in 2009, the first year when the salaries of corporate executives were released under a new disclosure system.

That was the top salary of any executive of a Japanese company for that year.

Ghosn continued to receive around 1 billion yen a year from Nissan, placing him in the top 10 for executive salaries for eight straight years.

At a Nissan shareholders’ meeting in June this year, one stockholder questioned whether Ghosn’s high salary ran counter to a sense of corporate responsibility for the discovery in 2017 that Nissan had fabricated vehicle inspection results because of a severe shortage of certified inspectors.

At that time, Ghosn defended the salaries of top Nissan executives, saying the high pay was the only way to attract outstanding personnel in the hugely competitive global auto industry.


Investigators had carefully planned a multi-front assault on Ghosn on Nov. 19.

One team of investigators was waiting at Haneda Airport in Tokyo for the corporate jet carrying Ghosn to land. They had learned beforehand that the jet was scheduled to arrive between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Investigators also received approval from airport officials to approach the plane on the tarmac soon after it landed. That allowed investigators to board the corporate jet and to question Ghosn within minutes after it landed.

After the plane arrived at 4:35 p.m., a white van parked next to the plane ramp.

But rather than Ghosn departing the plane, men in business suits were seen boarding and leaving the plane for the next three hours or so.

At 7:50, three cars parked at the foot of the plane ramp finally left the area, although it was not immediately clear if Ghosn was in any of those vehicles.

Prosecutors also sent teams of investigators to Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama as well as Ghosn’s private residence in the posh Moto-Azabu district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward around 5 p.m. to begin separate searches of those locations.