A court in Tokyo on Monday sentenced two US citizens to prison for helping former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn escape Japan where he faced criminal charges of financial misconduct.
Michael Taylor, a US military veteran, was sentenced to two years in prison, while his son, Peter, was given a term of one year and eight months. Both had pleaded guilty to smuggling Ghosn out of the country hidden in a box.
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“This case enabled Ghosn, a defendant of serious crime, to escape overseas,” Hideo Nirei, the chief judge, said while explaining the judgement. “One year and a half has passed, but there is no prospect of the trial being held.”
The two men apologised for their actions last month and said they regretted what they had done.
Ghosn, once one of the most prominent men in the global car industry, was facing charges of understating his compensation and enriching himself at his employers’ expense when he was smuggled out of the country at the end of 2019.
Prosecutors said the Taylors received $1.3m for their services and a further $500,000 for legal fees. The pair faced as many as three years in jail for what prosecutors in the US described as “one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history”. They were extradited to Japan in March.
Ghosn remains a fugitive in his childhood home of Lebanon, which does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.
Ghosn, who also ran the French carmaker Renault was arrested in 2018 and accused of understating his compensation in Nissan’s financial statements by 9.3 billion Japanese yen ($85m) over 10 years and enriching himself at his employer’s expense through payments to car dealerships in the Middle East.
He denies the charges and claims they were cooked up by Nissan executives who opposed his attempts to more closely integrate the firm with Renault.
He says he fled Japan because he did not believe he would receive a fair trial.
Ghosn’s escape started with him simply walking out of the luxury central Tokyo residence where he was on bail on December 29, 2019 and taking a bullet train to the city of Osaka in western Japan.
“There were dozens of people in the carriage, but I was wearing a cap, a facemask and sunglasses. You’d have had to be a real expert to recognise me under all that,” Ghosn wrote in a book published last year.
Once he got to Osaka, he met Michael Taylor in a hotel and was smuggled onto a private jet in a box for musical equipment. The plane stopped in Turkey before heading onto Lebanon.
Two pilots and another employee of a small private airline in Turkey have been sentenced to four years and two months for their role in Ghosn’s escape, while a third man, identified as George Antoine Zayek, is also accused of involvement in the escape but remains at large.
A former Nissan aide to Ghosn, Greg Kelly, is awaiting the verdict in his trial in Japan. He could face 10 years or more in prison if convicted of financial misconduct.