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Former US special forces operative Michael Taylor was sentenced to two years, while his son Peter received a sentence of 20 months © AFP / Philip FONG


Japan court jails US duo over Carlos Ghosn escape

The American duo was jailed for helping Carlos Ghosn flee Japan © AFP / Philip FONG

Tokyo (AFP), Jul 19 – An American father-son duo who helped former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn flee Japan were sentenced to jail by a Tokyo court on Monday, one for two years and the other 20 months.

The sentences are the first to be handed down in Japan in the Nissan saga, which began with former auto tycoon Ghosn’s shock arrest in 2018 on financial misconduct allegations.

Former US special forces operative Michael Taylor was jailed for two years, while his son Peter received a sentence of 20 months for their role in smuggling Ghosn onto a private jet inside an audio equipment box.

“This case enabled Ghosn, a defendant of serious crime, to escape overseas,” chief judge Hideo Nirei said. “Both defendants pulled off an unprecedented escape.”

Nirei said there was “no prospect” of Ghosn’s trial resuming because he is now a fugitive in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.

The Taylors, who faced up to three years in prison, did not contest involvement in what US prosecutors described as “one of the most brazen and well orchestrated escape acts in recent history”.

The pair both apologised in previous hearings at which Japanese prosecutors had sought a sentence of two years, 10 months for Michael, and two years, six months for Peter.

Their defence lawyers had argued that a suspended sentence was appropriate given their remorse, and asked that the 10 months they were in US detention before being extradited should be considered in sentencing.

But Nirei said that detention period was not related to the crime and should be treated differently.

He informed the men, who wore dark suits and white shirts with no tie and remained silent as he spoke, that they could file an appeal within 14 days.

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– Compensation ‘motive’ –

The Taylors arrived in Tokyo in March after losing a battle against extradition.

A Japan court has sentenced an American father-son duo who helped Carlos Ghosn flee to between 20 months and two years in prison © FAMILY HANDOUT/AFP/File

At their first hearing, in June, prosecutors described the almost-cinematic details of the operation — including that Ghosn was hidden in a large case with air holes drilled into it to slip past security at an airport.

Describing the experience recently to the BBC, Ghosn said the half-hour in the box waiting for the plane to take off was “probably the longest wait I’ve ever experienced in my life”.

A third man, identified as George Antoine Zayek, is also accused of involvement in the escape but remains at large.

According to the prosecution, the Ghosn family paid the Taylors more than $860,000 for preparation and logistical costs, and $500,000 in cryptocurrency for lawyers’ fees.

The escape route of Carlos Ghosn, the ex-CEO of Renault-Nissan, from Japan to Lebanon. © AFP / Vincent LEFAI

“The main motive for this case was compensation,” Nirei said.

Ghosn’s escape started with him simply walking out of the luxury central Tokyo residence where he was out on bail on December 29, 2019, and taking a shinkansen bullet train to Osaka in western Japan.

“There were dozens of people in the carriage, but I was wearing a cap, a facemask and sunglasses. You’d have had to be a real expert to recognise me under all that,” Ghosn wrote in a book published last year.

He met Michael Taylor in a hotel in Osaka and was smuggled onto the private jet, transiting in Turkey before arriving in Lebanon.

– Kelly trial –

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Ghosn, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian passports, says he fled Japan because he did not believe he would receive a fair trial.

Ghosn remains an international fugitive in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan © AFP/File / ANWAR AMRO

He has always denied the charges against him, arguing they were cooked up by Nissan executives who opposed his attempts to more closely integrate the firm with French partner Renault.

The fallout from the saga has been vast, with Nissan’s CEO forced out after his own financial irregularities were uncovered in a probe that followed Ghosn’s arrest.

A former Nissan aide to Ghosn, Greg Kelly, is awaiting the verdict in his trial in Japan. He could face 10 years or more in prison if convicted of financial misconduct.

And two pilots and another employee of a small private airline in Turkey have been sentenced to four years and two months for their role in Ghosn’s escape.

In May, Ghosn was questioned by French investigators in Lebanon over a series of alleged financial improprieties.

But he was only heard as a witness, and would need to be in France to be formally indicted.


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