Michael and Peter Taylor accused by Japanese authorities of helping former Nissan chief out of Japan on private jet
TOKYO—Americans Michael Taylor and Peter Taylor pleaded guilty to the charge of helping former Nissan Motor Co. NSANY 0.69% chief Carlos Ghosn escape Japan in a box—an idea that Japanese prosecutors said Mr. Ghosn himself suggested.
After the father-and-son defendants were brought into the Tokyo District Court on Monday in handcuffs, prosecutors laid out their most detailed public description yet of the getaway plan that brought Mr. Ghosn to Lebanon at the end of 2019.
They said Mr. Ghosn’s wife, Carole, helped persuade Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, that her husband was the victim of Japan’s justice system and needed help escaping. Mr. Taylor, now 60 years old, and his son Peter Taylor, 28, found ways to communicate directly with Mr. Ghosn using tools including an unauthorized mobile phone and an encrypted messaging app, prosecutors said.
As the plan crystallized around using a private jet, Mr. Ghosn sent more than $860,000 to accounts controlled by Peter Taylor to fund the escape, prosecutors said.
The Taylors told the judge that the prosecutors’ summary of the case was correct—the equivalent of a guilty plea. The Taylors didn’t speak further, but a second trial session was scheduled for late June and they are expected to testify then. Sentencing will come later.
Neither the judge nor prosecutors indicated Thursday what the sentence would be. The charge against the Taylors—aiding the escape of a criminal—carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The father and son were arrested in May last year in an early morning raid by U.S. agents at their home in Massachusetts. After a legal fight, the U.S. extradited the pair to Japan in early March, and they have been in a Tokyo jail since then. The two looked tired and occasionally confused as the judge and lawyers discussed the case in Japanese, with only parts translated into English.
In court, prosecutors outlined the story of how the Taylors and a third alleged accomplice, Lebanese-American George Zayek, orchestrated Mr. Ghosn’s escape. Mr. Zayek hasn’t been arrested and is believed to be in Lebanon. Both Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Zayek are Lebanese citizens.
On the day of the escape, Dec. 29, 2019, the elder Mr. Taylor and Mr. Zayek flew to Japan aboard a private jet carrying a pair of black concert-equipment boxes, one of which was later used to smuggle Mr. Ghosn aboard the jet, prosecutors said. Mr. Taylor and Mr. Zayek decided to charter a jet after Mr. Ghosn said he wanted the fastest route out of Japan, and Mr. Ghosn came up with the idea to stow away inside a large box, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Ghosn had been living in Tokyo while awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct. His escape wasn’t noticed until he arrived in Lebanon, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Japan.
He said he fled because couldn’t get a fair trial in Japan. A representative of Mr. Ghosn declined to comment on Monday’s proceedings.
Prosecutors sought to undermine Mr. Ghosn’s justifications for escape, citing portions of a confession statement they said Peter Taylor gave while in the Tokyo jail. According to prosecutors, the younger Mr. Taylor said he regretted the role he played in the escape and said he was treated fairly by Japanese prosecutors.
Before their arrival in Japan, lawyers for the Taylors argued that they had not committed a crime under Japanese law and said they wouldn’t receive a fair trial in the country. Their lawyers cited the long periods of interrogation in Japan during which the accused can’t have their lawyer present, a system that critics call hostage justice.
The justice ministry and prosecutors have denied that they pressure people into making confessions. Defense attorneys aren’t allowed to be present during interrogations because it would interfere with the prosecutors’ work, according to the ministry.
Ahead of the trial, Mr. Ghosn said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Taylors made friendly statements about Japanese prosecutors. “How can you trust a statement made by a person in a hostage justice system?” Mr. Ghosn said.
Prosecutors said Michael Taylor met Mrs. Ghosn in Lebanon in June 2019. Mrs. Ghosn was communicating with her husband using the messaging app Signal in violation of his bail terms, and both Michael and Peter Taylor were able to communicate directly with Mr. Ghosn, they said. Mrs. Ghosn declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Peter Taylor began traveling to Japan to meet with Mr. Ghosn in the latter half of 2019, and Mr. Ghosn sent two payments of $540,000 and $322,500 to the bank account of an internet marketing company owned by the Taylor son, prosecutors said. The son hoped his role in the escape would lead to future business for his company from Mr. Ghosn or his associates, they said.
After Japanese authorities issued a warrant for the Taylors’ arrest in January 2020, Mr. Ghosn warned them that they should stay in Lebanon rather than return to the U.S., according to a summary of Michael Taylor’s statement in jail read by prosecutors. The elder Mr. Taylor asked Mr. Ghosn for help paying legal expenses. Mr. Ghosn agreed and bitcoin valued at $500,000 was sent from an account owned by Mr. Ghosn’s son, Anthony Ghosn, to an account owned by Peter Taylor, prosecutors said.