Japan to seek extradition of men arrested over Ghosn escape

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TOKYO — Japan said Thursday it was working to secure the rapid extradition of two men arrested in the United States on charges of enabling the dramatic escape of former Nissan Motor Co. boss Carlos Ghosn from the country.

U.S. authorities arrested a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and another man on Wednesday over the charges regarding Ghosn’s escape in late December. The former auto executive was awaiting trial on accusations of financial misconduct that he denies.

“We are making preparations, including working to cooperate on a speedy extradition,” Chief Cabinet officer Yoshihide Suga told reporters, acknowledging the arrests.

Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, who had defended Ghosn until he fled, said in a telephone interview the key question was whether there was enough evidence to warrant extradition, and he would watch developments closely.

Former Green Beret Michael Taylor, 59, and his son, Peter Taylor, 27, were arrested after U.S. law enforcement learned the latter had booked a flight from Boston to Beirut departing Wednesday with a layover in London, court papers showed.

Nissan took note of the extradition proceedings and reserved the right to take further legal measures against Ghosn, the company said in an emailed statement.

It filed a civil suit in Japan this year seeking 10 billion yen ($93 million) in damages from its former boss for alleged misconduct.

Following their arrest, the Taylors appeared by video Wednesday rather than in person before a federal judge due to restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic. Both were dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and wore face masks.

They are being detained at the request of U.S. prosecutors, who say their role in Ghosn’s escape is evidence they pose a risk of flight. Paul Kelly, their lawyer, said he may seek their release in coming days.

Kelly, in a statement, also said he expects to challenge any extradition request.

“Michael Taylor is a distinguished veteran and patriot, and both and he and his son deserve a full and fair hearing regarding these issues, both before the courts and the executive branch,” he said.

Federal prosecutors asked the judge to order both men detained.

“Peter Taylor is not just capable of fleeing while on bond — he is an expert in the subject,” the U.S. said in a court filing. “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 meetups, bullet train travel, fake personas, and the chartering of a private jet.”

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested them in Harvard, Mass., at the request of Japan, which in January issued arrest warrants for both men along with a third, George-Antoine Zayek, in connection with facilitating the Dec. 29, 2019, escape.

Zayek’s whereabouts weren’t immediately known. Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined comment on Zayek.

The U.S. court filings shed more light on the details of Ghosn’s escape and the intricate planning leading up to it. They also show that Peter Taylor allegedly played a much larger role than previously known. He is said to have traveled to Japan at least three times, starting in July 2019, and met with Ghosn at least seven times during those trips.

Peter Taylor allegedly rented the room at a luxury hotel in Tokyo, where he handed Ghosn a room key on Dec. 28, and, as revealed by video surveillance cameras, stored luggage for Ghosn’s change of clothes a day later. After being joined in the hotel room by his father and Zayek on Dec. 29, Peter then departed for Tokyo’s Narita airport and took a flight to China, court filings show.

Later that day, Michael Taylor, Zayek and Ghosn took a bullet train to Osaka and entered a hotel where Taylor and Zayek had rented a room after arriving earlier via private jet from Dubai. About two hours later, Taylor and Zayek left the hotel with luggage, including two large black boxes, and headed to the Osaka airport.

There were no recorded images of Ghosn leaving the hotel room, according to the court filing. Ghosn allegedly was hiding in one of the boxes, which looked like the type that carry musical instruments. These weren’t screened before being loaded onto the jet, which took off from Japan at 11:10 p.m. — about 13 hours after it had arrived.

Ghosn, who was chairman and chief executive officer of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi automaker alliance, was arrested in November 2018, accused of under-reporting income and misusing company funds. He had been under house arrest as he awaited trial. Ghosn, who denies the charges, has called his prosecution part of a plot to limit the integration of Nissan and Renault.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.
 

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Saurabh Shukla

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