Father and son plead guilty to helping Carlos Ghosn flee Japan

Former Nissan chairman fled country in a box on a private jet while on bail

Former Nissan Motor Chariman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention House in Tokyo, Japan on April 25th, 2019. Photograph: Issei Kato/ Reuters

Former Nissan Motor Chariman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention House in Tokyo, Japan on April 25th, 2019. Photograph: Issei Kato/ Reuters

 

The American father and son accused of orchestrating Carlos Ghosn’s elaborate escape from Japan via bullet train, private jet and musical equipment box have pleaded guilty in a Tokyo court.

Michael Taylor, the 60-year-old former Green Beret, and his son Peter (28) were extradited to Japan this year after their 2020 arrest in Boston. They face up to three years in prison.

The two appeared handcuffed before a three-judge panel in the Tokyo district court on Monday. Prosecutors read a statement laying out details of the plot to extract the former Nissan chairman from a large house in central Tokyo to Lebanon after changing planes in Turkey.

The escape, which involved moving Mr Ghosn between hotels in Tokyo and Osaka before concealing him in a specially modified crate and claiming it was concert equipment, involved months of planning.

That included working out which of Japan’s airports had security weaknesses that could be exploited for the crucial moment when the crate was moved on to a private jet without its human contents being checked.

Mr Ghosn, who remains in Lebanon and claims that his daring escape was an attempt to “flee injustice”, was facing multiple charges of financial misconduct. Mr Ghosn denies the charges.

When the chief judge asked whether there was any mistake in the prosecutor’s statement that he helped with Mr Ghosn’s escape, Michael Taylor, wearing a mask, dark suit and a white shirt, said: “No, your honour.” His son also responded “No” to a similar question.

Claims of innocence

Ahead of the Taylors’ extradition from the US, their lawyers had argued their innocence, claiming that since the act of “jumping bail” was not technically a crime in Japan, the act of assisting someone in doing so could not be one either.

On Monday, the pair did not dispute the claims laid out by prosecutors. But their lawyer sought to downplay Peter’s role in the plot, saying his involvement was “mere accessory to Michael”, although the father and son were given equal responsibility in the indictment.

According to prosecutors’ opening statement, Mr Ghosn had been planning his escape from Japan from about June 2019 and asked Michael to orchestrate the plan, initially through his wife, Carole.

Four months later, Mr Ghosn made $862,500 (€711,581) in wire payments to a company managed by Peter to cover the fees for the private jets following multiple secret meetings between the two men in Tokyo. The scheme was eventually allegedly carried out with the help of George Zayek, a private security contractor and Lebanese national who is also wanted by Japanese authorities.

Bail conditions

The first day of the trial revealed how Mr Ghosn had easily bypassed what his wife had described as Japan’s “punitive and inhumane” bail conditions as the former chairman frequently communicated with the Taylors via messaging app Signal using a phone contract set up by his sister, and held secret meetings in Tokyo at his lawyer’s office, according to prosecutors.

After Japanese authorities issued an arrest warrant for the Taylors following the escape, prosecutors said Michael asked for legal fees, and Mr Ghosn transferred bitcoin worth about $500,000 to Peter’s account via his son’s account. Towards the end of Monday’s session, Peter was said to have confessed that helping Mr Ghosn was the worst thing he did in his life.

Greg Kelly, Mr Ghosn’s former deputy, is also on trial in Tokyo, fighting charges that he helped Nissan’s former chairman conceal the true scale of his pay. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021