Ghosn probe finds his daughter met with alleged escape planner

Former Nissan Motor Co chairman Carlos Ghosn was free on bail awaiting trial when he fled.
Former Nissan Motor Co chairman Carlos Ghosn was free on bail awaiting trial when he fled.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Carlos Ghosn insists his wife and four adult children played no part in his dramatic escape from Japan in a crate that was smuggled aboard a private plane.

"I alone arranged for my departure," the former Nissan Motor Co chairman said in January. "My family had no role whatsoever."

But according to evidence gathered by Japanese prosecutors, Ghosn spent some of his final hours in Tokyo with at least one family member - his daughter Maya, 27, who works in California. The two had lunch together the day he fled, before she delivered luggage to a hotel where she met with one of Ghosn's alleged accomplices.

Those details were included among hundreds of pages of travel documents, witness statements and security-camera images in Japan's formal request to the US government for the extradition of the two Americans accused of engineering the escape: former Green Beret Michael Taylor and his son Peter.

The previously undisclosed documents include references to a large cast of characters - from Ghosn's chauffeur to baffled hotel staff and airport workers - who say they were unwittingly drawn into the escape from Japan, where Ghosn faces charges of financial misconduct.

He's now free in Lebanon, while the Taylors are fighting extradition from jail cells in Boston.

The documents don't say whether Ms Maya Ghosn had any inkling what her father was planning, and none of Ghosn's family members has been charged with helping him. A family spokeswoman, Ms Leslie Jung-Isenwater, said the fugitive's daughter had no role in the escape.

Ms Maya Ghosn, a Stanford University graduate who works for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropy organisation backed by the founder of Facebook Inc and his wife, did not respond to messages on social media.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said it would not comment on an individual case, and a lawyer for the Taylors declined to comment.

Ghosn, who has said he's innocent of misconduct, spent several months in a Japanese jail after his arrest in November 2018 but was free on bail awaiting trial when he fled. The broad outlines of his escape plot have been clear for months.

US prosecutors say Michael Taylor concealed Ghosn inside a large box meant for musical equipment and then sneaked him onto a private jet Dec 29 at Kansai International Airport in Osaka.

 
 
 
 

But a more complete account emerges in the extradition request that Japan sent to the US State Department in June, a month after the Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts at the request of the Japanese government. While some of the information has appeared in court filings, Bloomberg News has reviewed a copy of the full package of documents, which has not been made public.

According to a statement he gave to prosecutors, Ghosn's chauffeur drove the auto executive and his daughter to lunch at a Tokyo restaurant on Dec 29. Later that afternoon, the driver told prosecutors, he took them back to Ghosn's house and helped them load at least five suitcases into a black Toyota Alphard van.

BAG DROP-OFF

Then, the driver said, Ms Maya Ghosn asked him to take her to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, where authorities say Peter Taylor was staying. She told the chauffeur she wanted to drop off some of the bags with an "acquaintance," he said, because she was about to fly to the US and the luggage exceeded the airport's weight limit.

The driver recalled removing a heavy suitcase from the car, and said he saw Ms Maya Ghosn approach a "light-skinned man" who had come out of the hotel.

A security-camera image included in the documents identifies Ms Maya Ghosn meeting with Peter Taylor and shows them shaking hands at the Grand Hyatt a little after 2pm.

Another set of images shows Taylor standing next to her in the parking lot, where Japanese prosecutors say he "received two suitcases from Ghosn's home that were transported in the Alphard driven by Ghosn's driver." Then, according to the documents, the chauffeur drove Ms Maya Ghosn from the Grand Hyatt to Haneda Airport so she could catch a flight to the US.

Meanwhile, her father walked to the hotel, where he met the Taylors and a former Lebanese solder, George Zayek, who is also accused of helping orchestrate the escape, according to the documents. Zayek, who is wanted in Japan, hasn't responded to the allegation and couldn't be reached for comment.

In Room 933 at the Grand Hyatt, Ghosn changed clothes and then joined Zayek and Michael Taylor on a train to Osaka, bringing one of the two suitcases delivered from his house, the documents state. Peter Taylor went to Narita Airport near Tokyo and flew to China, taking the other suitcase with him.

The Taylors have never denied that they were involved in Ghosn's escape. But they have argued in a US court that helping someone jump bail is not a crime under the Japanese penal code.

For Japan, Ghosn's escape was a national embarrassment, and in the witness statements included with the extradition package, employees at Kansai Airport said they were sorry they were fooled.

According to the documents, Zayek and Michael Taylor arrived at Kansai in the charter jet on the morning of Dec 29. After getting off the plane, Taylor made small talk with an airport employee, claiming to be a violinist who had come to Osaka to give a concert.

That evening, a couple of hours before the plane was scheduled to depart, Taylor returned to the airport to check the status of the flight, the documents say. He handed one of the employees a thick bundle of bills, describing it as a "tip." The employee estimated the wad was at least one million yen (S$12,900).

As the plane prepared to take off, staff at the airport nervously discussed whether it was appropriate to keep the cash, documents show.

"We concluded that the tip should be politely returned," one of the employees said. "Mr Taylor looked disappointed, but without saying anything he accepted the envelope I held out to him."

HEAVIER BOX

Several employees told Japanese investigators they also wondered about the large black box Taylor and Zayek had brought with them to Osaka, documents show. When the plane landed in the morning, it took only two people to lift the box. As the men prepared to fly out that night, it took four or five.

"Maybe there is a beautiful young lady in the box," one of the employees remembered joking.

But no one raised an alarm.

Taylor and Zayek had booked a charter terminal with limited security, and the box never passed through an X-ray scanner, one of the employees said.

Once details of Ghosn's escape in a box began to emerge in the media, "a bell rang in my head," one airport employee told Japanese authorities.

In the hours before he fled, Ghosn told his chauffeur to expect to hear from him on Dec 31, the documents show. But no call ever came.