American duo sentenced for helping Carlos Ghosn escape from Japan

Michael Taylor will serve two years in prison while his son Peter received a sentence of one year and eight months

Former US special forces member Michael Taylor (right in both images) and his son Peter, posing together years apart in the US. AFP / Courtesy of the Taylor family
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The father-son team who smuggled former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in a large musical-equipment case were sentenced to time in prison for their role in helping him flee trial in 2019.

Michael Taylor, 60, the father and a former US Green Beret, was given a sentence of two years by the three-judge panel on Monday. His 28-year-old son Peter Taylor received a one-year eight-month sentence, they said.

Both pleaded guilty last month to charges of aiding Mr Ghosn’s escape to Beirut, a development that was just as shocking as the November 2018 arrest of the auto executive for alleged financial crimes.

With Mr Ghosn out of reach – Lebanon does not extradite its citizens – the pair have become a proxy for the former chairman and his case. So has Greg Kelly, a former Nissan director who was detained on the same day as his boss and is facing trial in Japan. Mr Ghosn and Mr Kelly have denied allegations of understating the auto executive’s compensation.

After spending more than a year in Japan and free on bail, Mr Ghosn made his way to Osaka’s airport on Dec. 29, 2019, by bullet train. From there, he was rolled on to a private jet that flew to Istanbul, where he switched planes and made his way to Beirut.

Carlos Ghosn gestures as he talks during an interview with Reuters in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2021.  Reuters

The actions by the Taylors meant the “the ability to go after the truth has been blocked”, Prosecutor Ryozo Kitajima argued on July 2. Mr Ghosn’s escape was “systematically” planned over the course of more than six months and while Michael led the operation, Peter’s role was also significant, he said. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of more than two years for each.

Defence lawyers for the Taylors, who were detained for about 10 months in the US before their extradition, pushed for a suspended sentence. Mr Ghosn was the one behind the scenes and did all the major planning, Keiji Isaji, a lawyer for the Taylors, said in a prior hearing.

The Taylors have been embroiled in legal battles since helping Mr Ghosn escape. After fighting extradition charges, the pair were brought to Japan in March. The two were placed in solitary confinement in a detention centre as they attended trial at the Tokyo District Court.

The crime of harbouring or enabling the escape of a criminal carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison in Japan.

The duo apologised to prosecutors and Japan’s justice system in a hearing in late June. Helping Mr Ghosn flee was a mistake, they both said. Michael Taylor has never denied his involvement in Mr Ghosn’s escape, speaking in court about how he organised and carried out the brazen operation. Peter’s role is less clear.

Money used to pay for Mr Ghosn’s escape was transferred through Peter’s company and he met with the former auto executive several times in the months leading up to, and on the day of, the escape, prosecutors said. But Peter testified in court last month that he didn’t know the details of when or how Mr Ghosn was planning to escape, and only learnt of the former chairman’s flight via reports after the fact.

Updated: July 19, 2021, 7:22 AM