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US arrests two men accused of helping Carlos Ghosn flee

The US has arrested two men accused of helping Carlos Ghosn flee Japan last year, in the latest twist of the long-running legal saga surrounding the former Nissan chief executive.

Michael Taylor, 59, and his son, Peter Taylor, 27, are wanted by Japanese authorities for allegedly assisting in Mr Ghosn’s dramatic escape in December from Japan, where he was on bail awaiting trial on charges of financial crimes.

Mr Ghosn led Nissan for almost two decades before his arrest in 2018. He was accused, among other things, of misstating his compensation. He has denied any wrongdoing and denounced the charges as being part of a plot to oust him from the company.

His escape from Japan to Lebanon was “one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history”, US prosecutors in Boston said in a court filing, involving “a dizzying array of hotel meetups, bullet train travel, fake personas, and the chartering of a private jet”.

The two men were arrested on Wednesday — just before Peter Taylor was set to fly from Boston to Beirut, Lebanon, according to the filing. Mr Ghosn presently resides in Beirut.

Both Michael and Peter Taylor are due to appear before a federal judge on Wednesday afternoon.

The Boston US attorney’s office said in court filings the men were arrested pursuant to Japanese warrants issued in January. Prosecutors cited the pair’s reputation for high-stakes escapes as they asked that both men be denied bail while they await extradition, arguing that they were “not just capable of fleeing while on bond” but are “expert[s] on the subject”.

The scheme the men are accused of executing to remove Mr Ghosn from Japan demonstrated their “aptitude for hatching escape plans on a grand scale” and “expertise in coordinating complex plans to avoid detection by law enforcement”, prosecutors wrote.

An attorney for Peter Taylor declined to comment. An attorney for Michael Taylor could not be immediately reached for comment.

Court papers unsealed on Wednesday laid out a detailed account of the alleged operation — including the role of Peter Taylor, who followed his father into the security business.

According to prosecutors, Peter Taylor travelled to Japan three times in the months before the escape, meeting with Mr Ghosn — then under house arrest — on at least seven occasions.

Peter Taylor checked into a room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo on December 28, 2019, the day before Mr Ghosn’s escape. The next day, his father and George Zayek, a Lebanese national who is also now wanted by Japanese authorities, flew from Dubai to Kansai airport in Osaka.

They were carrying two large black boxes that resembled cases for musical equipment, according to prosecutors, and told airport workers they were musicians.

They checked into a local hotel, and headed to Tokyo, where they met at the Hyatt with Mr Ghosn and Peter Taylor. Video footage showed all four men exiting room 933 that afternoon, US court filings said.

Peter Taylor then separated from the group and flew to China while Mr Ghosn, Mr Zayek and Michael Taylor boarded a bullet train back to Kansai airport, prosecutors said. The three men entered the hotel room there, and later emerged with Mr Ghosn apparently stowed in one of the cases. It was loaded on to a private jet that evening without being screened by security.

According to the court papers, Michael Taylor, a former US Army Green Beret, flew from Dubai to Boston in February, followed by his son the next month, according to the court papers. Japan subsequently filed requests for their extradition after they returned to the US. On May 6, the US requested arrest warrants for both men.

Michael Taylor has a daring — and controversial — background. After finishing high school in Massachusetts, he entered the military and then the special forces.

He was posted to Lebanon in the early 1980s, and after leaving the military, parlayed his contacts into a private security business in the region. He also served, according to previous court papers, as an undercover agent in the Middle East for the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Over the years, he has won acclaim for engineering hostage rescues in Lebanon and elsewhere involving meticulous planning and execution.

However, he has also had past legal problems. Working as a private investigator, he was once accused of planting drugs on a woman involved in a divorce dispute and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanours in connection with the incident. More recently, he was jailed for 14 months in Utah after pleading guilty to a bribery scheme involving a $54m defence department contact in Afghanistan.

“The bottom line is this guy was a damn hostage that’s what it was. If he popped out of North Korea or China it would be a totally different narrative,’ he said.

After his own imprisonment, people close to him have said, Michael Taylor was sympathetic to Mr Ghosn’s plight in a Japanese legal system that he viewed as hostile to foreigners.

In seeking to hold the Taylors without bail, US prosecutors warned of “serious diplomatic repercussions” if the defendants absconded.

“It would add insult to injury if the Americans who enabled Ghosn’s escape were themselves able to evade justice, and the United States was thereby unable to fulfil its treaty obligations to Japan,” prosecutors said.

Others have found themselves in legal peril as a result of the elaborate scheme to free Mr Ghosn.

Four private jet pilots who flew the former Nissan executive from Tokyo to Beirut via Istanbul have been in jail in Turkey since January. So too is the operations manager of a Turkish aviation company accused of chartering two planes for the escape.

The five men are awaiting trial on people smuggling charges. Two cabin attendants also face charges of failing to report a crime.

An Istanbul court last week accepted an indictment prepared by prosecutors against the seven accused airline staff. The first hearing is set for July.

 

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