U.S. arrests 2 men wanted by Japan for Ghosn escape

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BOSTON/WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities on Wednesday arrested a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and another man in Massachusetts wanted by Japan on charges that they enabled the escape of former Nissan Motor Co. boss Carlos Ghosn out of the country.

Former U.S. Green Beret Michael Taylor, 59, and his son, Peter Taylor, 27, are accused by Japanese authorities of helping Ghosn last year flee to Lebanon to avoid trial over alleged financial wrongdoing.

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.

Ghosn, who was out on bail at the time, fled to Lebanon, his childhood home, while he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies.

Prosecutors said Peter Taylor traveled to Japan the day before Ghosn’s escape and Michael Taylor and Zayek arrived the next day with large black boxes that appeared to be for music equipment.

They said all three met with Ghosn, who after entering a hotel room with Michael Taylor and Zayek hid in one of boxes. The box was taken to an airport and loaded on a private jet headed for Turkey, prosecutors said.

Ghosn two days later announced he was in Lebanon.

The Taylors were arrested after U.S. law enforcement learned Peter Taylor had booked a flight from Boston to Beirut departing Wednesday with a layover in London, according to court papers.

Following their arrest, the Taylors appeared by video 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.

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 Japanese embassy in Washington and Nissan did not immediately comment. A representative for Ghosn declined to comment.

This month, Turkish prosecutors prepared an indictment charging seven people, including four pilots, over Ghosn’s escape via Istanbul to Beirut.

In September, Nissan and Ghosn settled civil charges by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision related to what they said were false financial disclosures by the company that omitted more than $140 million to be paid to Ghosn in retirement.

That sum was ultimately was not paid. Nissan paid $15 million and Ghosn $1 million to resolve the SEC investigation. Ghosn agreed to a 10-year ban from serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded U.S. company.

The SEC also said Ghosn engaged in a scheme to conceal more than $90 million of compensation. Nissan sued Ghosn in February seeking about $90 million.

It is rare for Japan to extradite its citizens to the United States in white-collar crime cases.

Former paratrooper

Michael Taylor, 59, once worked undercover for U.S. law enforcement after starting his career as a Special Forces paratrooper. He later built a Boston-area security firm, known as American International Security Corp., with contracts for work around the world. He was once hired by the New York Times to help extract a reporter being held hostage in Afghanistan.

An Arabic speaker, Michael Taylor’s first trip to Beirut was nearly four decades ago when he helped train Lebanese combat forces in the early 1980s, according to unrelated court filings from a federal court case in Utah. Ten years later he worked as an undercover operative in Lebanon for a U.S. probe of drug trafficking and money laundering, the filings said.

Zayek was associated with Taylor’s security firm, but less is known about him. He is part of a family of Lebanese Maronite Christians, a group that Taylor worked closely with in Lebanon.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

The cases are U.S. v. Michael L. Taylor, 20-mj-01069; U.S. v. Peter Maxwell Taylor, 20-mj-01070, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Worcester).

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Saurabh Shukla

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