Americans stand trial in Japan, accused in Ghosn’s escape


FILE— This Dec. 30, 2019 image from security camera video shows Michael L. Taylor, center, and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey. Americans Michael Taylor and his son Peter Taylor go on trial in Tokyo on Monday, June 14, 2021, on suspicion they helped Nissan former Chairman Carlos Ghosn skip bail in Japan and escape to Lebanon in December 2019. (DHA via AP, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Two Americans who are charged with helping former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan while he was facing accusations of financial misconduct agreed Monday they took part in a scheme for him to escape the country.

Statements by Michael Taylor and his son, Peter, on the opening day of their trial in Tokyo suggest the pair don’t plan to fight charges of assisting a criminal. That carries a possible penalty of up to three years in prison.

Prosecutors read out a statement accusing Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, and Peter Taylor of arranging to hide Ghosn in box for musical equipment. It was loaded onto a jet in the western city of Osaka that flew him to Lebanon via Turkey in December 2019. “You helped him escape,” the statement said.

After a brief discussion with Chief Judge Hideo Nirei and defense lawyers, the Taylors agreed there were no mistakes in the statement.

The Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts last year and extradited to Japan in March. Unlike the United States, Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship.

The authorities say Ghosn hired the Taylors for at least $1.3 million. Monday’s prosecution statement said $500,000 was to be transferred to Peter Taylor through the account of Ghosn’s son, Anthony.

Ghosn led Nissan Motor Co. for two decades before his arrest in 2018. He was charged with falsifying securities reports in under-reporting his compensation and of breach of trust in using Nissan money for personal gain. He says he is innocent.

Peter Taylor said in a statement to a Massachusetts court in January that he met Ghosn in 2019 in Japan to pitch his digital marketing company to help repair Ghosn’s tarnished reputation. He said Ghosn asked him to bring him gifts, food and DVDs from his wife, and to deliver gifts, including to relatives in Lebanon.

Peter Taylor said he left Japan for Shanghai on Dec. 29, 2019, and was not in Japan when Ghosn is accused of fleeing. He denied he was in touch with his father at that time, according to a document from the Massachusetts District Court.

Monday’s prosecution statement said a third person, George-Antoine Zayek, helped Michael Taylor with the luggage that Ghosn hid inside. Zayek has not been arrested.

Ghosn has said he fled Japan while out on bail because he did not expect to get a fair trial. More than 99% of criminal cases in Japan result in convictions.

No Japanese executives have been charged in the scandal at Nissan, Yokohama-based manufacturer of the Leaf electric car, March subcompact and Infiniti luxury models.

Extraditions between Japan and the U.S. are relatively rare, even for serious crimes. The possible penalty of three years in prison is the minimum required for an extradition.

Separately, another American, Greg Kelly, a former Nissan executive vice president, is on trial on charges he under-reported Ghosn’s compensation. That trial began in September, also in the Tokyo District Court.

Kelly says he is innocent and was only involved in finding lawful ways to pay Ghosn more to prevent him from leaving for a rival automaker.

Before his arrest, Ghosn was an auto industry star for having orchestrated Nissan’s rebound from the brink of bankruptcy after he was sent to Japan by its French alliance partner Renault in 1999.

Ghosn slashed his pay by about 1 billion yen ($10 million) to half of what he’d been getting, starting in 2010, when Japan began requiring disclosure of high executive pay.

The concern was that his relatively high compensation might be viewed unfavorably since Japanese top executives tend to draw lower pay packages than their peers in other countries.

At the heart of Kelly’s trial is the question of whether Ghosn’s pay violated the law in deferring compensation that should have been reported. Several senior executives at Nissan, including some other non-Japanese, knew about the shortfall.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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