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Ex-Green Beret used concert as cover for Ghosn escape

  • March 23, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 6:12 a.m.
  • English Press

HITOSHI ITO and WATARU KAWASAKI, Nikkei staff writers

 

TOKYO — “We’re violinists,” Michael Taylor, the former Green Beret who engineered Carlos Ghosn’s daring 2019 escape from Japan, told a terminal manager at Kansai International Airport while on his way to ferry the former Nissan Motor chief out of the country in a subwoofer box.

 

Details of the elaborate scheme to help Ghosn flee to Lebanon while out on bail have emerged in the investigation into Taylor and his son Peter, who were charged by Japanese prosecutors Monday after their extradition from the U.S. this month. The pair allegedly received well over $1 million in compensation from Ghosn — who faces charges of financial misconduct — and his family.

 

Michael Taylor arrived at Kansai International Airport with an alleged accomplice, American national George-Antoine Zayek, around 10 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2019, according to U.S. court documents submitted by Japanese prosecutors.

 

When asked by the terminal manager why the self-described musicians were leaving the country that same night, Taylor responded that they were performing in Osaka that day and had an urgent meeting abroad the next day.

 

This cover story was likely prepared ahead of time with the knowledge that a classical concert was indeed being held in the city that day.

 

Upon returning to the airport that night with Ghosn in tow, Taylor reportedly asked the terminal manager about security inspections, claiming to be in a rush, and offered a bundle of 10,000 yen bills — worth just under $100 each — as a “tip.” The airport worker did not accept the apparent bribe.

 

Security camera footage shows former Green Beret Michael Taylor, center, at Istanbul Airport in December 2019.   © Kyodo
 

Meanwhile, Peter Taylor had previously met at least eight times with Ghosn since July 2019, including the day before the escape. He may have communicated with Ghosn via a smuggled mobile phone — something the ex-Nissan chief was banned from using under his bail conditions.

 

On the day of the escape, the younger Taylor allegedly had a room booked at a hotel in Tokyo’s Roppongi entertainment district, where Ghosn changed into a new set of clothes.

 

Michael Taylor and Zayek later met up with Ghosn there, and the trio left the hotel and traveled by bullet train to Osaka, before making their way to another hotel near Kansai Airport for the final legs of the trip.

 

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Taylor said he had heard about the case from a Lebanese businessman who called to ask for help with someone getting “railroaded in Japan.”

 

The contact put him in touch with Ghosn’s wife, Carole, who told Taylor that her husband had been treated “like a POW” (prisoner of war). Taylor agreed to extract him.

 

The team appears to have been compensated before and after the operation. Two months before the December escape, $862,500 was transferred from an account connected to Ghosn to a company run by Peter Taylor.

 

And between January and May of last year, Ghosn’s son Anthony sent Peter the equivalent of about $500,000 in cryptocurrency. Japanese prosecutors point to this as evidence that Ghosn’s family was likely involved in the plot.

 

Michael and Peter Taylor were arrested in the U.S. last May, and the Japanese government later requested that they be extradited here. The request was eventually approved, and the two were taken into custody in Japan early this month.

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