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Americans held in Tokyo key to understanding Ghosn's Japan escape

Michael Taylor and son face interrogation at Tokyo Detention House

Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention House in April 2019. Ghosn has criticized Japanese authorities over his treatment while in custody. (Photo by Taro Yokosawa)

TOKYO -- Japanese prosecutors seek to make long-awaited progress regarding former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn's brazen escape from house arrest in 2019 now that two of his alleged American accomplices have been extradited to Japan.

Ex-Green Beret Michael Taylor, 60, and his son, Peter Taylor, 28, arrived at Japan's Narita Airport about 4:15 p.m. Tokyo time on Tuesday from Boston. They were transported to the Tokyo Detention House that night.

The two men, along with another U.S. national, George-Antoine Zayek, are accused of aiding Ghosn flee Japan in 2019 in an elaborate plot reported widely around the world. Zayek's whereabouts remain unknown.

Ghosn, who was awaiting trial for financial misconduct under house arrest at the time, is alleged to have met the elder Taylor and Zayek at a Tokyo hotel on Dec. 29, 2019. They then are believed to have traveled on a bullet train from Tokyo to a hotel near Osaka's Kansai International Airport, and smuggled Ghosn in a box designed to look like audio equipment onto a private jet headed to Turkey, which left Japan later that night.

The elder Taylor is alleged to have personally loaded the box containing Ghosn onto the jet. The younger Taylor had met with Ghosn at least eight times between July 2019 and the day before his escape, according to prosecutors, and is believed to have discussed the plans with Ghosn.

Security camera footage shows former Green Beret Michael Taylor, center, at Istanbul Airport on December 2019. Taylor and his son, Peter, have been extradited to Japan.   © Kyodo

Michael Taylor has never denied helping Ghosn escape and recounted the act in an interview with Vanity Fair.

An account in Ghosn's name wired $862,500 to a company run by Peter Taylor in October 2019, according to documents U.S. authorities presented in federal court. Ghosn's son also sent the equivalent of $500,000 in cryptocurrency to the younger Taylor between January and May of 2020, which Japanese investigators believe was compensation for his contribution to the escape.

Prosecutors hope to discover how Ghosn was able to plan his escape and fool Japanese immigration authorities even as his use of the internet and mobile devices was restricted as part of the conditions of his release on bail in April 2019.

But whether the interrogation will go smoothly is far from clear.

The U.S. requires that police allow an attorney to be present during questioning if requested. But this right is not afforded to suspects in Japan, according to Wang Yunhai, a professor at the Hitotsubashi University law school in Tokyo.

"In the U.S., confessions are often based on plea deals that involve dropping charges or recommending a lighter sentence, " Wang said.  Japan does not allow these type of plea deals.

In the Ghosn case, "both father and son may remain silent when prosecutors seek a confession," he added.

Ghosn currently lives in Lebanon with his wife, Carole, who also has a warrant out for her arrest on suspicion of giving false testimony. Interpol has issued a wanted notice for the former Nissan chief at Japan's request, but Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan, and Beirut has been unwilling to hand him over.

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