How a High-Ranking Nissan Executive Escaped His Own Trap

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The matter weighed on him. In 2010, Mr. Kelly instructed Mr. Nada to begin the first of a series of secret plans intended to increase Mr. Ghosn’s benefits and compensation, according to court testimony and internal Nissan documents.

Executive compensation was a perilous political issue in France, Mr. Nada testified earlier this month, and if Mr. Ghosn’s true compensation were revealed, the French government — as a major Renault shareholder — would have pushed the company to fire him.

Mr. Nada, 56, had joined Nissan as a junior legal counsel in 1990 and was fiercely loyal to the company. He began his career in Britain and by 2010 had become a senior manager.

He kept his work for Mr. Ghosn secret, he wrote in a draft statement to prosecutors reviewed by The Times, in part because Mr. Kelly convinced him that his boss, in his position as the head of the alliance, was a critical bulwark against the French government’s ambition for Renault to absorb Nissan, its junior partner.

For eight years, Mr. Nada worked “proactively and creatively” to realize Mr. Kelly’s instructions, he told the court, making arrangements to purchase homes across the globe for Mr. Ghosn’s personal use and to disguise the extent of his pay.

His career advanced apace. By the spring of 2018, when the investigation into Mr. Ghosn began to coalesce, Mr. Nada wielded enormous power, controlling Nissan’s legal, compliance, security and communications departments, among others. He was a top adviser to its then-chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, and to Mr. Ghosn.

For years, Mr. Nada had fended off questions from both internal and external auditors about his work for Mr. Ghosn, according to the documents. But in 2018, a Nissan whistle-blower complained about travel expenses for Mr. Ghosn’s family to a company auditor, Hidetoshi Imazu. The issue, Mr. Imazu later told Nissan lawyers, spurred him to dig into Mr. Ghosn’s affairs, including one of the secretive companies Mr. Nada had set up to acquire properties.

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