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U.S. father and son who helped ex-Nissan chief Ghosn escape trial are sent to prison in Japan

Two men at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey
Security-camera video shows Michael Taylor, center, and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey in December 2019.
(DHA)

A Tokyo court handed down prison terms for the American father and son who helped Nissan’s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, escape to Lebanon while awaiting trial in Japan.

Michael Taylor was sentenced Monday to two years in prison, while his son Peter was sentenced to one year and eight months.

They were charged with helping a criminal in the December 2019 escape of Ghosn, who hid in a big box that was flown on a private jet via Turkey to Lebanon. Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

In handing down the sentencing, Chief Judge Hideo Nirei said they had committed a serious violation of the law, as now there is next to no chance of putting Ghosn on trial.

“This case enabled Ghosn, a defendant of a serious crime, to escape overseas,” he said.

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Although the defense argued that the two had been merely used by Ghosn, they clearly were involved, regardless of who was making the decisions, Nirei said.

Lebanese prosecutors have issued a travel ban for fugitive ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn following an Interpol-issued notice, a judicial official said.

Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018 on charges of underreporting his compensation and of breach of trust in using Nissan Motor money for personal gain. He maintains his innocence and says he left because he could not expect a fair trial in Japan.

The Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts in May 2020 and extradited to Japan in March. During their trial they apologized, saying they had been misled by Ghosn about Japan’s criminal justice system. Michael Taylor sobbed and said he was “broke,” denying they had benefited monetarily because the $1.3 million prosecutors said Ghosn paid them just covered expenses.

But Nirei, the judge, said the court found that the motive was money. The Taylors can appeal within two weeks, he said.

The father and son, both wearing dark suits and flanked by guards, stood before the court in silence.

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn says the decision to flee Japan, where he was accused of financial misconduct, “was the most difficult of my life.”

The Taylors’ defense lawyer, Keiji Isaji, sought a speedy trial. Many Japanese trials last for months, if not years.

The maximum penalty in Japan for helping a criminal is three years in prison. Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of of two years and 10 months for Michael Taylor and two years and six months for his son.

The Taylors’ defense had argued for suspended sentences for the two, who spent 10 months in custody in the U.S. before their extradition.

But Nirei said the time they were held before and during trial would not count as time served, saying they were not directly related and should be treated differently. “There is a limit to how much we can consider,” he said.

In December 2019, Ghosn left his home in Tokyo and took a bullet train to Osaka. At a hotel there, he hid in a big box supposedly containing audio equipment, with air holes punched in it so he could breathe, according to prosecutors.

Another man, George-Antoine Zayek, is accused in the escape, but has not been arrested.

Separately, Greg Kelly, a former top Nissan executive, is on trial in Tokyo on charges of falsifying securities reports on Ghosn’s compensation. Kelly, arrested at the same time as Ghosn, also says he is innocent.

A verdict in Kelly’s trial, which began in September, is not expected until next year. More than 99% of Japanese criminal trials result in convictions. Upon conviction, the charges Kelly faces carry a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison.


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