Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Former Green Beret, Son arrested for smuggling ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn from Japan

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U.S. authorities arrested a former Green Beret and his son on suspicion they helped smuggle auto titan Carlos Ghosn out of Japan inside a musical equipment box.

In a criminal complaint, federal prosecutors said they were acting on a request from Japanese authorities to extradite Michael L. Taylor and his son, Peter M. Taylor, for their alleged roles in helping Mr Ghosn escape from Japan.

Michael and Peter Taylor didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Ghosn, a former Chairman and Chief Executive of Nissan Motor Co., had been charged in Japan with financial crimes and was living in a court-monitored Tokyo house when he suddenly disappeared from the country in late December. He turned up in Lebanon and announced he had fled Japan because he didn’t feel that he was able to get a fair trial there.

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The arrests are the latest twist in a cinema-worthy plot. Michael Taylor helped Mr. Ghosn sneak onto a private jet at an Osaka airport by hiding him in a large box normally used for musical equipment, The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the escape. Mr. Ghosn changed planes in Turkey and remains in Lebanon.

Mr. Ghosn has refused to discuss the details of his escape, saying he doesn’t want to get the people who helped him into legal trouble. His spokeswoman declined to comment on the arrests.

For many weeks after the escape, Michael Taylor steered clear of the U.S., which has an extradition treaty with Japan, and remained in Beirut. In January, a Japanese court issued arrest warrants for Mr. Taylor, his son and Lebanese-born U.S. citizen George Zayek on suspicion they violated Japan’s immigration-control laws by allegedly helping Mr. Ghosn to escape. Mr. Zayek didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In February, Michael Taylor flew to Boston, according to court documents, where he owns a house in a distant suburb. His son flew from Dubai to Boston on March 22, the court documents said, after countries around the world started going into lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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Prosecutors said both Taylors were arrested early Wednesday in the Massachusetts town where the family owns a home. Peter Taylor had been planning a trip to Beirut, set to depart Wednesday, prosecutors said in court documents.

At the initial hearing Wednesday afternoon, conducted by video as is typical during the pandemic, the Taylors sat side by side in a small cinder block room, wearing orange jumpsuits and tan masks. Michael Taylor briefly crossed himself shortly before the hearing began.

Judge Donald L. Cabell said formal hearings on continued detention for the pair would be held later. Japan has yet to issue a formal extradition request and has 45 days to do so, a federal prosecutor said at that hearing.

Michael Taylor, age 59, is a longtime security operative and former Army Special Forces soldier who has made a career out of arranging complicated, sometimes hair-raising overseas rescues and other missions.

Prosecutors asked a federal judge to detain both Taylors pending extradition hearings. They said Michael Taylor “presents an enormous risk of flight,” arguing that his alleged involvement in the Ghosn plot “demonstrates his aptitude for hatching escape plans on a grand scale and his blatant disrespect for bond conditions.”

“The plot to spirit Ghosn out of Japan was one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history, involving a dizzying array of hotel meet-ups, bullet train travel, fake personas, and the chartering of a private jet,” prosecutors said, in arguing for Mr. Taylor’s detention.

In the complaints and accompanying court filings, federal prosecutors provided fresh details of the alleged Ghosn escape, based on the Japanese government investigation.

Peter Taylor, now 27 years old, traveled to Japan three times in the months leading up to Mr. Ghosn’s escape, prosecutors said, with the earliest trip in July 2019. During the visits, Peter Taylor met seven times with Mr. Ghosn, according to meeting records Mr. Ghosn was required to maintain as part of his bail conditions.

On his final trip, in late December, Peter Taylor allegedly checked into a Tokyo hotel where he met for an hour with Mr. Ghosn, according to the court documents. The next day, the younger Mr. Taylor allegedly received Mr. Ghosn’s luggage at the hotel. Mr. Ghosn arrived separately and allegedly went to Peter Taylor’s room to change clothes.

Michael Taylor and Mr. Zayek meanwhile arrived in Osaka by private jet from Dubai, bringing two large boxes that looked like they were for musical equipment, according to the court documents. The men allegedly told airport workers that they were musicians.

The pair then made their way to Tokyo by train. Surveillance videos show them meeting up with Mr. Ghosn and Peter Taylor at the younger Mr. Taylor’s hotel room, according to the court documents. All four men were spotted on video leaving together, where Peter Taylor separated from the group and took a flight to China.

Later that evening, Michael Taylor and Mr. Zayek arrived at the Osaka airport, with Mr. Ghosn “hiding in one of the two large black boxes,” according to a court document. “Their baggage passed through the security check without being screened and was loaded onto a private jet,” the document says.

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Once in Turkey, Mr. Ghosn boarded a second jet for Lebanon, while Michael Taylor and Mr. Zayek took a commercial flight to Lebanon, the Journal previously reported. Messrs. Taylor and Zayek were caught on video cameras going through passport control at an Istanbul airport.

It isn’t clear what, if anything, Michael Taylor and his associates were paid for their alleged roles in the escape plan. The Lebanese-born Mr. Zayek previously worked with Mr. Taylor’s Boston-based security company and worked in private security with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his relatives.

Michael Taylor previously was in the spotlight after playing a role in the 2009 rescue of New York Times reporter David Rohde from Taliban captivity in Afghanistan. He also previously served time in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to a bid-rigging investigation.

He has told friends he had agreed to the plea deal only because he had been held in what he described as a brutal Utah county jail for 14 months awaiting trial.

“I learned about Carlos Ghosn’s plight, and felt very much like him, in the sense that we were both held hostage in an unfair legal system,” Mr. Taylor told the Journal earlier this year.

Earlier this month, Turkish prosecutors indicted seven people in connection with their probe into how Mr. Ghosn transited through Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport before reaching Lebanon, according to Turkish court documents.

The Turkish prosecutors, who charged four pilots and an airline manager with immigrant smuggling, and accused two flight attendants of concealing a crime, said further investigation was necessary to determine the alleged roles of Messrs. Taylor and Zayek.

Original article on WSJ

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