Lawyers for a Massachusetts father and son accused of orchestrating the escape of Nissan’s former chief executive Carlos Ghosn from Japan argued in federal court in Boston Friday that they should not be extradited because they did not break any of that country’s laws.
Authorities in Japan want Michael Taylor, a 59-year-old former Green Beret, and his son, Peter, 27, to stand trial for their role in Ghosn’s escape that involved sneaking the executive into a large container for a flight out of the country. And US prosecutors described the father and son as “international fugitives from justice” who were paid more than $1.3 million to help Ghosn flee in December while he was awaiting trial for financial crimes related to his leadership at Nissan.
They said the Taylors’ claim that they didn’t violate the law was “meritless” and should be decided by Japanese courts after they are extradited.
US Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell is now reviewing the extradition request. If he certifies it, the US State Department will decide whether to send the Taylors back to Japan.
“The Taylors’ alleged plot to smuggle Ghosn out of Japan was one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history, involving a dizzying array of luxury hotel meetups, fake personas, bullet train travel, and the chartering of a private jet,” prosecutors wrote in court filings. “Ultimately, Ghosn was hidden in a large black box, spirited out of Japan via private jet without detection by Japanese authorities.”
One of the managers at Kansai International Airport who helped unload Michael Taylor’s luggage from a taxi on Dec. 29 recalled that one box was so heavy he jokingly told a colleague, “Maybe there is a beautiful young lady in the box,” according to court filings.
That box, allegedly carrying Ghosn, passed through the security checkpoint without being screened and was loaded onto a private jet leased by Michael Taylor, according to the filings. Two days later, Ghosn publicly announced that he was in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan. He has maintained he is innocent and said he didn’t believe he could get a fair trial.
In addition to the Taylors, Japanese officials have issued an arrest warrant for Michael Taylor’s longtime acquaintance George Antoine Zayek, 60.
The Taylors were arrested in May at their home in Harvard and have remained in custody since.
“You have here two US citizens whose liberty to this point has been deprived,” attorney Abbe David Lowell, one of the Taylors’ lawyers, said during the video hearing, as father and son watched from the Norfolk County Jail.
If the Taylors are extradited, he said, they would be jailed in Japan for a long time, under “severe” conditions while waiting for their case to be resolved. He argued that bail jumping and assisting someone with bail jumping are not crimes in Japan and that lawmakers there are currently scrambling to change the law in the wake of Ghosn’s flight.
Japanese authorities allege the Taylors and Zayek face charges for enabling the escape of a criminal in violation of that nation’s penal code, which carries a maximum of three years in prison.
In court filings, the Taylors’ lawyers said that law applies only to those who help someone flee the scene of a crime, flee arrest, or flee from confinement.
“Who are the Taylors ’harboring’ Ghosn from?” defense lawyers wrote. “The police were not looking for him, and he had broken no laws until he committed an immigration violation by leaving Japan.”
Assistant US Attorney Stephen Hassink argued Friday that defense lawyers are narrowly interpreting Japan’s law. He urged the magistrate to give “a high level of deference” to Japanese authorities.
“Although the Taylors incidentally helped Carlos Ghosn jump bail, what they actually did was help Carlos Ghosn avoid prosecution and facing justice for his crimes,” Hassink said. “Bail jumping has nothing to do with it.”