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Michael Taylor arrested, faces extradition to Japan on charges of orchestrating escape of former Nissan CEO

Michael Taylor formerly coached football at Lawrence Academy.
Michael Taylor formerly coached football at Lawrence Academy.Wendy Maeda/GLOBE STAFF FILE

Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret wanted for allegedly helping former Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn escape Japan to evade prosecution, was arrested Wednesday morning at his Harvard home.

The US Marshals Service arrested Taylor, 59, and his son Peter, 27, on a provisional warrant based on charges brought in Japan earlier this year, according to US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office.

The Taylors now face extradition to Japan to face charges that they helped Ghosn escape in December by hiding him in a large black box and whisking him away on a private jet. At the time, Ghosn was free on bail and awaiting trial in Japan for financial crimes. Ghosn has maintained he is innocent and said he didn’t believe he could get a fair trial.

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The Taylors, who are being held at the Norfolk County Correctional Center in Dedham, were wearing orange jumpsuits and masks during an afternoon video conference in federal court in Boston.

US Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell ordered them to remain in custody until a hearing is held to determine whether they should be released on bail while extradition proceedings are pending. The hearing was not scheduled.

In court filings, prosecutors argued that Taylor, and his son, should remain in custody because the case “demonstrates his aptitude for hatching escape plans on a grand scale.”

“The plot to spirit Ghosn out of Japan was one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history, involving a dizzying array of hotel meetups, bullet train travel, fake personas, and the chartering of a private jet," Assistant US Attorney Stephen W. Hassink wrote.

Ghosn now lives in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan. Peter Taylor was scheduled to board a flight to Lebanon on Wednesday before he was arrested, prosecutors said.

Boston attorney Paul V. Kelly, who represents the Taylors, said he has yet to receive the extradition request from Japan, but said he expects to challenge the request on several legal and factual grounds.

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"Michael Taylor is a distinguished veteran and patriot, and both he and his son deserve a full and fair hearing regarding these issues, both before the courts and the executive branch,” Kelly said.

In January, Japanese officials issued an arrest warrant for Taylor, his son, and longtime acquaintance, George Antoine Zayek, 60. The three are accused of helping Ghosn bypass immigration checkpoints during the escape.

Japanese investigators allege that on Dec. 29, the day of the escape, Michael Taylor and Zayek traveled from Dubai to Japan on a private jet, carrying two large black boxes that appeared to be for audio equipment. They told workers at Kansai International Airport that they were musicians, prosecutors said.

Video surveillance gathered by Japanese authorities shows Michael Taylor and Zayek checked into the Star Gate Hotel Kansai Airport at 11:06 a.m. that day. They traveled by taxi and train to Tokyo, where they met Peter Taylor and Ghosn at the Grand Hyatt. The younger Taylor had checked into that hotel the previous day, according to court filings.

All four men left the Tokyo hotel carrying luggage, then Peter Taylor boarded a flight for China while the others traveled back to the airport hotel.

That night, Michael Taylor and Zayek arrived at Kansai airport and passed through security with the two black boxes, allegedly hiding Ghosn inside one of them, prosecutors allege. Just after 11 p.m., they boarded a private jet to Istanbul. Two days later, Ghosn made a public announcement that he was in Lebanon.

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“Michael Taylor is not just capable of fleeing while on bond — he is an expert in the subject,” Hassink wrote. He said Taylor founded the company American International Security Corp. and has previously “facilitated the extractions of other individuals” from countries. Prosecutors argued that the Taylors have a strong incentive to flee because the case against them in Japan is strong. Both of them have traveled extensively to countries that have no extradition treaty with the United States or Japan, they added.

Prosecutors also urged the court to reject any arguments by the Taylors that they should be released on bail to avoid exposure to the coronavirus in jail. The Taylors appear to be in good health and only one inmate and two staff members at the Norfolk jail had tested positive for the contagion as of Monday, prosecutors wrote.

Japan is seeking the extradition of the Taylors under a 1980 treaty with the United States. The court must decide whether there is probable cause to believe the Taylors committed the crime they are accused of and the secretary of state will ultimately decide whether to extradite them.

In court filings, Hassink said there could be “serious diplomatic repercussions” if the Taylors were released on bail and fled before extradition proceedings were held.

“The Ghosn prosecution was one of Japan’s most important cases,” Hassink wrote. “It would add insult to injury if the Americans who enabled Ghosn’s escape were themselves able to evade justice, and the United States was thereby unable to fulfill its treaty obligations to Japan.”

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Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.