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Americans plead guilty in Japan to aiding Carlos Ghosn’s escape

A Dec. 30, 2019 image from security camera video shows Michael L. Taylor (center) and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey. Michael Taylor and his son Peter Taylor pleaded guilty in a Tokyo courtroom on Monday to helping Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chief, flee Japan.
A Dec. 30, 2019 image from security camera video shows Michael L. Taylor (center) and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey. Michael Taylor and his son Peter Taylor pleaded guilty in a Tokyo courtroom on Monday to helping Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chief, flee Japan.Associated Press

TOKYO — An American father and son pleaded guilty in a Tokyo courtroom on Monday to helping Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chief, flee Japan as he faced trial on charges of financial wrongdoing.

Michael Taylor, 60, a former Green Beret, and his son Peter Maxwell Taylor, 28, of Harvard, Mass., appeared in the same Tokyo courthouse where Ghosn had been expected to stand trial before his daring escape to Lebanon in December 2019. By leaving Japan, Ghosn sidestepped a justice system he has said was bent on destroying him.

In court on Monday, as a prosecutor recounted their roles in the made-for-Hollywood caper, the men said they had no objection to the accusations against them, local media reported. They face up to three years in prison but could be credited with time they spent in jail in the United States.

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The Japanese authorities had indicted the Taylors for their part in orchestrating the escape, in which Ghosn sneaked out of house arrest in Tokyo and fled to the western city of Osaka. There, he was smuggled onto a private plane in a speaker box and flown first to Turkey and then to Beirut.

The Taylors themselves, however, were not able to evade the long arm of Japanese law. They were arrested by US authorities in Massachusetts in the spring of 2020 and spent months battling an extradition order, before being handed over to Japan in March.

They have passed the time since in the same detention center on the outskirts of Tokyo that once held Ghosn. There, they underwent questioning by prosecutors.

Michael Taylor, who worked in private security, had aided other international escapes, including assisting The New York Times after one of its reporters was kidnapped by the Taliban. After helping Ghosn flee, Taylor shared his story with the news media.

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The Taylors’ American lawyers, in fighting the extradition effort, had argued that the men’s actions did not constitute a crime under Japanese law. The lawyers also contended that the Taylors could face conditions amounting to torture during their detention in Japan.

The concerns echoed accusations by Ghosn himself that the authorities had subjected him to harsh prison conditions with the intention of making him confess to the charges against him, of which he said he was innocent.

During his months in prison, Ghosn was held in solitary confinement and subjected to repeated questioning by prosecutors without the presence of his lawyer, standard practices in Japan that have been condemned both domestically and abroad as “hostage justice.”

After his arrest in November 2018, Ghosn became convinced that he would not receive a fair trial and began to plot his escape. He was repeatedly arrested and ultimately charged with four counts of financial wrongdoing, including hiding the true extent of his compensation and using company funds for his personal gain.

The effort to free him was planned over months and was carried out by at least 15 people from around the world. They considered a variety of routes for removing the former executive from Japan, where he was awaiting trial on bail in a luxurious neighborhood in central Tokyo.

In the lead-up to the escape, according to Japanese prosecutors and American court documents, Peter Taylor had made three trips to Japan in 2019 and met with Ghosn in Tokyo at least seven times, including on the day before he fled.

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The following day, Dec. 30, Ghosn walked past the security cameras installed outside his residence and met with Michael Taylor and a second man, George Antoine Zayek, who took him by bullet train to a hotel in Osaka.

Once there, he was put into a large box with holes drilled in the bottom. The men then smuggled him through the private jet terminal at a nearby airport and onto the flight headed for Turkey. On arrival, Ghosn boarded a plane for Beirut.

In February, a Turkish court sentenced three men to prison for helping with the escape. They have said they were unaware that Ghosn was on the flight.

Japanese prosecutors have also issued arrest warrants for Zayek and for Ghosn’s wife, Carole, who they said provided false statements about her husband’s case. Zayek remains at large.

Carole Ghosn is living in Beirut with her husband, who has French, Lebanese, and Brazilian citizenship. Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

The Taylors’ trial is just one of several outstanding civil and criminal cases left in the wake of Ghosn’s arrest.

Another former Nissan executive, an American named Greg Kelly, is also on trial in Tokyo, where he stands accused of helping Ghosn hide his compensation. Kelly says that he is innocent.

His trial began in September and is not expected to conclude for months.