American duo jailed by Tokyo court for helping Carlos Ghosn flee Japan

Michael Taylor and his son Peter (left),  pleaded guilty last month to charges of aiding Carlos Ghosn's (right) escape to Beirut.
Michael Taylor and his son Peter (left), pleaded guilty last month to charges of aiding Carlos Ghosn's (right) escape to Beirut.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - The father-son team that smuggled Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in a large musical-equipment case was jailed for their role in helping Nissan Motor's former chairman flee trial in 2019.

Michael Taylor, 60, the father and a former United States Green Beret, received a sentence of two years by the three-judge panel on Monday (July 19). His 28-year-old son, Peter Taylor, received a one-year, eight-month sentence, they said.

Both pleaded guilty last month to charges of aiding Ghosn's escape to Beirut, a development that was just as shocking as the November 2018 arrest of the car executive for alleged financial crimes.

With Ghosn out of reach - Lebanon does not extradite its citizens - the pair has become a proxy for Ghosn and his case.

So has Greg Kelly, a former Nissan director who was detained on the same day as his boss and is facing trial in Japan. Ghosn and Kelly have denied allegations of understating the car executive's compensation.

After spending more than a year in Japan and free on bail, Ghosn made his way to Osaka's airport on Dec 29, 2019, by bullet train. From there, he was rolled on to a private jet that flew to Istanbul, where he switched planes and made his way to Beirut.

The actions of the Taylors mean "the ability to go after the truth has been blocked", Prosecutor Ryozo Kitajima argued on July 2. Ghosn's escape was systematically planned over the course of more than half a year and while Michael Taylor led the operation, Peter Taylor's role was also significant, he said.

Prosecutors recommended a sentence of more than two years for each.

Defence lawyers for the Taylors, who were detained for about 10 months in the US before their extradition, pushed for a suspended sentence.

Ghosn was the one behind the scenes and did all the major planning, the Taylors' attorney Keiji Isaji said in a prior hearing.

The Taylors have been embroiled in legal battles since helping Ghosn escape. After fighting extradition charges, the pair were brought to Japan in March. The two were placed in solitary confinement in a detention centre as they attended trial at the Tokyo District Court.

The crime of harbouring or enabling the escape of a criminal carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison in Japan.

The duo apologised to prosecutors and Japan's justice system in a hearing in late June. Helping Ghosn flee was a mistake, they both said. Michael Taylor has never denied his involvement in Ghosn's escape, speaking in court about how he organised and carried out the brazen operation. His son's role is less clear.

Money used to pay for Ghosn's escape was transferred through Peter Taylor's company and he met with the former car executive several times in the months leading up to, and on the day of, the escape, according to prosecutors.

But Peter Taylor testified in court last month that he did not know the details of when or how Ghosn was planning to escape, and only learnt of the former chairman's flight via reports after the fact.