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2 Americans plead guilty to helping ex-Nissan chief Ghosn flee Japan

Christian Fernsby |
Two Americans, charged with helping former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan in 2019 while on bail awaiting his trial, pleaded guilty at their first hearing in court on Monday.

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Michael Taylor, a 60-year-old former Green Beret, and his son Peter, 28, have already admitted to helping Ghosn, 67, flee Japan so the former auto tycoon could avoid trial for charges of financial misconduct.

The pair replied "no" when the judge asked them if there was anything incorrect about the charges submitted by the Tokyo Prosecutors' office, local media reported Monday.

Sources close to the case, as reported by local media, said the father and son team were initially asked by Ghosn's wife to smuggle the once-revered Nissan bigwig out of Japan while he was awaiting trial.

Prosecutors here said the two Americans were paid 1.3 million U.S. dollars to help Ghosn with the audacious escape and could be facing jail terms of up to three years.

Ghosn was initially released on bail in April 2019 on strict conditions that included a ban on foreign travel, limited access to telephones and computers and ensured he must stay restricted to a surveilled residence.

The Taylors are charged with providing Ghosn illegal passage to Lebanon, one of three countries he is a national of, by smuggling him out of his residence in Tokyo and to Kansai International Airport via two hotels in late December 2019.

The father and son team, in full knowledge that Ghosn was prohibited from leaving the country as part of his bail terms, hid Ghosn in a large box, which cleared Kansai airport security, and the illicit cargo was flown to Turkey on a private jet.

At the request of Japanese prosecutors, the Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts in 2020 by U.S. authorities.

They had fought extradition to Japan in U.S. courts but ultimately lost their battle when their appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in February this year.

Once extradited, they were arrested and charged in Japan in March and have since been detained at the same jail in Tokyo where Ghosn was held.

Ghosn, who holds Brazilian, French and Lebanese nationality, is accused of under-reporting his remuneration for years and for embezzling company funds. He has denied all the charges, claiming company insiders conspired against him.

His lengthy detention in Tokyo after being initially arrested in November 2018 had been the center of controversy in a scandal that rocked Japan and saw the international community criticize Japan's justice system, with those close to his case likening his detention to a form of "hostage justice."

Japan has since been trying to detain Ghosn with the help of Interpol as Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. This means that Ghosn cannot be legally handed over to Japan without Lebanon first agreeing to it.

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