Ex-Green Beret, son arrested for helping former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn flee Japan

Both men were wanted by the Japanese government for their alleged roles in smuggling Ghosn out of the country in a large black box used for musical equipment.
Image: Former Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn addresses a crowd of journalists during a press conference in Beirut on Jan. 8, 2020.
Former Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn addresses a crowd of journalists during a press conference in Beirut on Jan. 8, 2020.Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images

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By Tom Winter and Rich Schapiro

An ex-Green Beret and his son were arrested in Massachusetts on Wednesday for allegedly helping former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn escape from Japan to avoid criminal charges, federal prosecutors said.

Army veteran Michael Taylor, 59, and his son Peter, 27, were taken into custody in the town of Harvard by the U.S. Marshals Service Special Operations Group. Both men were wanted by the Japanese government for their alleged roles in smuggling Ghosn out of the country in a large black box used for musical equipment.

The ousted Nissan boss fled to Lebanon in late December from Japan where he was out on bail and awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, including the concealment of millions in income.

Ghosn's lawyers say the allegations are a result of trumped-up charges rooted in a conspiracy among Nissan, government officials and prosecutors to oust him to prevent the company's fuller merger with one of Nissan's alliance partners, Renault SA of France.

It was not immediately known if the Taylors had hired lawyers. The arrests were first reported on Twitter by Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's program on extremism.

The two men are set to appear in court Wednesday afternoon. Japan is expected to file a formal request for their extradition.

Michael Taylor, a private security consultant, was once hired by The New York Times to assist in the rescue of a reporter who was kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan, the paper has said. The reporter, David Rohde, ultimately escaped on his own in June 2009.

The arrests mark the latest twist in the case of Ghosn, who was once one of the automobile industry's most celebrated executives. Japanese authorities charged him with financial crimes in 2019. He posted a bail of $4.5 million last April and was supposed to be under close watch by authorities.

In a plot that seemed straight out of a Hollywood thriller, the Taylors and a third man, George-Antoine Zayek, orchestrated his escape in a span of days, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts.

Peter Taylor arrived in Japan on Dec. 28, 2019, and met with Ghosn at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. The following day, Michael Taylor and Zayek traveled on a private jet from Dubai to the Kansai International Airport in Japan, the complaint says, citing Japanese immigration records.

The two men arrived with a pair of large black boxes normally used to transport audio equipment, the complaint says, and they told airport workers that they were musicians.

Michael Taylor and Zayek boarded a train bound for Tokyo. Before they arrived, surveillance cameras captured Ghosn leaving his house with no luggage and walking to the Grand Hyatt, the complaint says.

"Ghosn's ability to operate the hotel elevator himself indicates Taylor had given him a copy of the room key the previous day, as a room key was necessary to access guest floors," the complaint says.

Michael Taylor and Zayek arrived in Tokyo at about 3:24 p.m. on Dec. 29. They met up with Peter Taylor and Ghosn at the hotel before all four men walked out together carrying luggage, the complaint says.

Peter Taylor separated from the group and headed to Narita International Airport where he boarded a flight to China. Ghosn, Michael Taylor and Zayek hopped on a bullet train to the city of Osaka, about 250 miles away.

They checked into the Star Gate Hotel at 8:14 p.m. and entered Room 4609, the complaint says. Just before 10 p.m., Michael Taylor and Zayek left the room with luggage, including the two large boxes, and headed for Kansai International Airport.

"There is no image of Ghosn leaving Room 4609," the complaint says. "Instead, Ghosn was hiding in one of the two large black boxes being carried by Michael Taylor and Zayek."

The black boxes passed through airport security without getting checked and was loaded onto a private jet, the complaint says. The two men boarded the plane and it took off for Turkey at about 11:10 p.m., the complaint says.

Two days later, Ghosn announced that he was in his home country of Lebanon, where the high-profile fugitive was seen as a sort of folk hero. At a press conference in Beirut, Ghosn said he was not fleeing justice but was escaping injustice.

"This was the most difficult decision of my life," Ghosn said of his decision to flee Japan. "But let’s not forget I was facing a system where the conviction rate is 99.4 percent and you can bet the number is higher for foreigners."