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Carlos Ghosn looks on during a news conference at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Jounieh, Lebanon, on Sept. 29, 2020.MOHAMED AZAKIR/Reuters

Carlos Ghosn concealed the scale of his compensation at Nissan Motor Co. because he feared the French government would force him out of Groupe Renault if it discovered how much he earned, an executive at the Japanese automaker told a Tokyo court on Thursday.

Hari Nada, a former Nissan vice-president in charge of legal affairs, is a key whistleblower in the case brought by Japanese prosecutors against Mr. Ghosn, the former Nissan and Renault boss who was arrested in 2018.

Mr. Nada was testifying at the trial of former Nissan executive Greg Kelly who is charged with helping Mr. Ghosn hide 9.3 billion yen (US$90-million) in compensation over eight years through deferred payments after Japan introduced new rules requiring executives to disclose payments above one billion yen.

Mr. Kelly has pleaded not guilty. He has been on bail in Japan since his release from jail in 2018 and is facing trial without Mr. Ghosn because his co-accused fled to Lebanon in December, 2019.

Mr. Ghosn, who was once one of the world’s most prominent auto bosses as head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, has denied wrongdoing. He says he is the victim of a boardroom coup by former Nissan colleagues worried he would push through a merger between Nissan and Renault, its largest shareholder.

Mr. Nada told the court that Mr. Ghosn had concealed his true compensation because he feared the repercussions in France. He said Mr. Kelly had given him this information.

“He [Mr. Ghosn] didn’t want to be fired. If he paid himself what he wanted and that was disclosed, the French state would have felt obliged to fire him,” said Mr. Nada, who agreed to co-operate with Japanese prosecutors in return for immunity from prosecution.

A person close to Mr. Ghosn dismissed the notion that he had feared being forced out over his pay levels.

France’s economy ministry declined to comment.

Mr. Nada was demoted after Mr. Ghosn’s arrest.

Mr. Ghosn is also charged with enriching himself through US$5-million in payments to a Middle East car dealership, and for a breach of trust for temporarily transferring personal financial losses to his employer’s books. He denies any wrongdoing.

Mr. Kelly’s trial could take about a year. If found guilty he could face up to 10 years in prison and a 10-million-yen fine.

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