Carlos Ghosn escape: four-year jail terms for Turkish pilots and airline official

Ghosn faces legal challenges despite escape

Turkish pilot Noyan Pasin who was sentenced to four years and two months in prison for flying former Nissan Motor Co. chairman Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in 2019 during his dramatic escape to Beirut, Lebanon via Istanbul, talks to media following the trial outside the court in Istanbul, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. The court convicted a Turkish private airline official and two pilots. Ghosn, who was arrested over financial misconduct allegations in Tokyo in 2018, skipped bail while awaiting trial there. (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)
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A Turkish court sentenced an official from a private airline and two pilots to four years and two months in prison each for their involvement in former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn's dramatic escape from Japan in 2019.

Delivering its verdict on Wednesday, the court in Istanbul acquitted two other pilots of the charge of “illegally smuggling a migrant”. A flight attendant was acquitted of the charge of failing to report a crime, while the case against a second flight attendant was dismissed.

Mr Ghosn, who was arrested in Tokyo on allegations of financial misconduct in 2018, skipped bail while awaiting trial. He was flown from Osaka to Istanbul on a private plane and then transferred to another plane to Beirut, where he arrived on December 30, 2019. He is believed to have hidden in a large box.

The convicted pilots, Noyan Pasin and Bahri Kutlu Somek, who flew Mr Ghosn from Osaka to Istanbul, maintained their innocence throughout the trial. They, the other two pilots and the flight attendants, all denied involvement in plans to help Mr Ghosn flee and insisted they did not know that he was aboard their flights.

The airline official, Okan Kosemen, said he was made aware that Mr Ghosn was on the plane to Istanbul only after it landed. He admitted helping to smuggle Mr Ghosn on to the second, Lebanon-bound plane, but claimed that he was threatened and feared for his family’s safety, according to testimony reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency.

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2020, file photo, former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn holds a press conference at the Maronite Christian Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, as he launches an initiative to help Lebanon that is undergoing a severe economic and financial crisis, in Kaslik, north of Beirut, Lebanon. Former Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told a Japanese court Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, he believed the compensation for his predecessor Carlos Ghosn was too low “by international standards,” and so he supported Ghosn’s retirement packages to prevent him from leaving.  (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2020, file photo, former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn holds a press conference at the Maronite Christian Holy Spirit University of Kaslik. AP

Turkish airline company MNG Jet admitted that two of its planes were used illegally in Mr Ghosn's escape, flying him to Istanbul, and then to Beirut. The company said its employee falsified flight records so Mr Ghosn's name did not appear.

All three defendants were expected to appeal against their convictions.

Lawyer Erem Yucel said the two pilots who took Mr Ghosn from Istanbul to Beirut were acquitted on a technicality, because the former Nissan chief’s Lebanese nationality meant that he could not be considered a migrant being smuggled to Lebanon.

"Those who took him from Istanbul to Beirut were acquitted. We don't think this verdict is right. We will appeal and exercise our legal rights," said Mr Yucel, who represented Pasin.

Pasin said: “We’re being accused of piloting the plane ... we didn’t plan the flight. It was our company which planned and arranged everything and assigned us to this flight."

Mr Ghosn, 66, who has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, led Japanese car maker Nissan for two decades. He is wanted on charges of breach of trust in misusing company assets for personal gain, and breaking securities laws in not fully disclosing his compensation.

He said he fled because he could not expect a fair trial in Japan. Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

In addition to his trial in Japan, the businessman faces legal challenges in France from his time in charge of the Renault-Nissan alliance, including allegations of tax evasion, money laundering, fraud and misuse of company assets.