ISTANBUL -- A Turkish judge on Friday released pending trial the four pilots and an aviation company manager accused of aiding former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn's escape from criminal custody in Japan.
The five suspects are accused of smuggling an immigrant. The judge also decided to continue the trial of two flight attendants, not currently detained, who are charged with failure to report a crime.
The decisions came during the first full hearing related to Ghosn's escape. The former automotive executive, arrested on financial misconduct charges in 2018, skipped bail while awaiting trial in Japan late last year. He flew to Istanbul and was then transferred to another plane headed to Beirut, where he arrived on Dec. 30.
The next hearing is set for Dec. 17, to hear remaining witnesses.
Authorities detained the pilots and the manager in early January upon receiving a complaint from the aviation company's management, which had learned that two of its jets were used to for Ghosn's escape.
All the suspects denied any wrongdoing. The manager, Okan Kosemen, said he did not learn that Ghosn was on board until the plane was in flight to Istanbul. Kosemen alleged that threats to his family were made.
Kosemen, when asked about roughly $300,000 in dollar and euro deposits made to his bank account recently, replied that the money was work-related bonus payments. He denied taking any money from those who arranged Ghosn's escape.
The pilots and flight attendants said they were unaware Ghosn was aboard and that his name was not on the flight document listing cargo, passengers and crew members.
Ghosn was hidden inside a music box. The suspects said that checking the box and asking passengers for identification fall outside their duties.
They allege that the two registered passengers for the flight -- who are accused of arranging Ghosn's escape -- did not interact with the crew, requesting privacy and closing the door of their section.
A lawyer for one of the pilots hailed the decision to release the suspects from custody.
"Justice is served, albeit late, and I expect my client will be acquitted in the December trial," the lawyer told the Nikkei Asian Review.