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Ghosn was mastermind behind his escape in box, prosecutors say

Ex-Nissan chair spent six months planning operation while on bail

Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn now lives in Beirut, Lebanon, where he is a national. Lebanon does not extradite its citizens.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn came up with the idea of smuggling himself abroad in a box, Tokyo prosecutors said at a Monday hearing for two Americans charged with aiding his 2019 escape from Japan, arguing that the former Nissan Motor chairman was actively planning for months to leave the country in violation of his bail conditions.

Prosecutors spoke at the first hearing in the trial for former Green Beret Michael Taylor, 60, and son Peter, 28, who pled guilty to assisting Ghosn.

The 67-year-old former executive had decided by June 2019 to flee Japan, six months before his elaborate escape and just months after he was granted bail over charges of financial misconduct at Nissan, according to the prosecutors.

Michael Taylor was allegedly introduced to Ghosn's wife Carole by an acquaintance around that time. In a meeting in Lebanon, Carole Ghosn told Taylor that her husband would end up in prison unless something changed, and asked Taylor to extract him from Japan.

Japanese authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Carole Ghosn, 54, for providing false testimony in connection to the case.

Carlos Ghosn, who was awaiting trial for underreporting his income and for breach of trust, reportedly also asked Taylor for his help over the phone. Taylor agreed to the operation in July.

Under his bail conditions, Ghosn at the time was only permitted use of one mobile phone provided by his attorney and a computer at his office. But he secretly obtained a second handset to communicate with Taylor. The two sides allegedly finalized plans in August to smuggle him out of the country on a private jet.

Ghosn reportedly also met with Peter Taylor several times at an attorney's office in Tokyo, where Ghosn agreed to pay the younger Taylor's marketing company for his escape. Ghosn transferred over $1.3 million worth of cash and cryptocurrencies before and after the operation.

Another associate, George-Antoine Zayek, joined the team around September. The 61-year-old American apparently traveled to Japan, and identified security loopholes for private jets at Kansai International Airport in Osaka.

Kansai International Airport's Premium Gate Tamayura opened to private-jet passengers in June 2018. Lax security measures for these passengers were used to sneak Ghosn out of Japan. (Photo by Emi Okada)

Zayek also faces an arrest warrant in Japan, but remains at large.

Ghosn allegedly suggested himself that he hide inside a box so he could be smuggled onto a private jet at the airport, and Michael Taylor obtained a piece of audio equipment large enough to fit Ghosn in Lebanon. He had offered a bundle of 10,000 yen bills -- worth just under $100 each -- as a tip to an airport employee as they departed, though the worker turned it down.

According to an oral statement by the elder Taylor, which was presented to the court as evidence, Ghosn emerged from the box as the jet flew from Japan to Turkey. Ghosn claimed that he was tortured in Japan and framed by Nissan.

Ghosn did not offer a single thanks, Taylor said in his testimony.

Once the jet arrived in Turkey, a separate man reportedly boarded the plane and said he would handle the rest on his own. Ghosn apparently transferred to a different private jet and eventually arrived in Lebanon, while Taylor and Zayek headed there on a commercial flight. Lebanon is one of three countries where Ghosn is a national and one that does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.

The Taylors will be back in court on June 29 for cross-examination. If convicted, the Taylors face up to three years in prison for aiding Ghosn’s escape, though they could receive a suspended sentence. Ghosn remains in Lebanon.

Additional reporting by Eri Sugiura

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