Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn aided in flight from Japan by former US Green Beret

Carlos Ghosn was facing four charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan and was set to go on trial sometime this year before he escaped.
Carlos Ghosn was facing four charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan and was set to go on trial sometime this year before he escaped.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (NYTIMES) - Carlos Ghosn was aided in his escape from Japan by an American security consultant who accompanied him on the flight out of the country, a person familiar with the matter said, while a Turkish charter jet company said on Friday (Jan 3) that its planes were used illegally to pull off the plan.

The Japanese news media also reported on Friday that surveillance camera footage showed the disgraced auto industry mogul leaving his Tokyo home by himself on Sunday, a day before he turned up in Beirut.

With the new details, a clearer - if still imperfect - picture is emerging of how Ghosn, Japan's most prominent criminal defendant, managed to evade authorities.

The American consultant, a former US Green Beret named Michael Taylor, was introduced to Ghosn by Lebanese intermediaries months ago, said the person, who asked not to be identified to discuss a sensitive issue.

Turkish media outlets have reported that Taylor and another American were the only people listed as passengers on a manifest for the flight that carried Ghosn from Japan to Turkey.

On Friday, MNG Jet, an aircraft charter company, said one of its employees had falsified records to remove Ghosn's name from the official documentation for two flights.

Taken together, the disclosures paint a picture of a dash across Japan to a waiting plane. Still, most of the details of his getaway remain unconfirmed by authorities in Japan, Turkey or Lebanon.

Ghosn - who has maintained that he is innocent - was facing four charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan and was set to go on trial sometime this year. But he escaped instead, saying that he did not trust what he called the "rigged" Japanese justice system to give him a fair trial. He built and once ran the Nissan-Renault auto alliance, one of the world's biggest car-making empires, but was arrested in November 2018.

News outlets in Turkey reported this week that Ghosn left Osaka, Japan, late Sunday aboard a business jet and landed at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. He then switched planes and flew to Beirut, the reports said.

Taylor, a former member of an Army Special Forces team, works as a security consultant. He was once hired by The New York Times to assist in the rescue of David Rohde, then a Times reporter, who was kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan's tribal areas. Rohde ultimately escaped on his own in June 2009.

Taylor was indicted in 2012 for his role in a plan to obstruct a federal fraud investigation into bid rigging of Defense Department contracts. He served time in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud, but the government returned US$2 million (S$2.7 million) that had been taken from him, as well as two Land Rovers, according to court records.

 
 
 
 

Taylor's involvement in Ghosn's escape was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The news accounts of Ghosn's flight match the records of a Bombardier business aircraft operated by MNG Jet that took off from Osaka just after 11pm local time and landed in Istanbul about 12 hours later, according to data from FlightAware, a flight tracking service.

MNG Jet said it had no indication the two flights were connected. It said that it filed a criminal complaint in Turkey on Wednesday and that it "hopes that the people who illegally used and/or facilitated the use of the services of the company will be duly prosecuted".

The company said the employee who falsified flight records had confessed to acting alone, without management's knowledge. MNG Jet did not disclose the employee's name.

Five people - four pilots and MNG Jet's operations manager - have been sent to pretrial detention by a Turkish court, according to local media reports, and an official at ground services provider Havas said prosecutors had released two of its employees.

The jet company has also transported gold out of Venezuela, helping the government there in its efforts to raise cash, according to Caracas Capital, an investment bank that has been tracking the gold shipments. The movement of MNG's jets through Venezuela were confirmed by online flight trackers.

MNG is the "go-to company if you want to have something done," said Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital.

It is not clear how Ghosn, who was under heavy surveillance in Tokyo, eluded authorities and made his way to Osaka, which is roughly 300 miles west of Tokyo.

In Japan on Friday, news outlets reported that Ghosn walked out of his Tokyo home alone on Sunday but never came back. The news reports cited anonymous sources with knowledge of footage of the cameras surrounding his rented house in a central district of the city.