Planes, Trains and Boxes: Carlos Ghosn's Audacious Escape

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Planes, Trains and Boxes: Carlos Ghosn's Audacious Escape

Carlos Ghosn's 2019 escape from Japan, where he was awaiting trial, was virtually made for Hollywood, complete with private jets, a former special forces operative and a giant case to hide inside.

But while the former auto tycoon is now safely ensconced in Lebanon, in one of his many homes, two of the men accused of helping him escape face trial in Tokyo.

The multi-millionaire was used to spending his life jetting around the world and was chafing under the restrictions of his bail in December 2019, just over a year after his arrest.

He faced four charges of financial misconduct and a lengthy trial in a country where he claimed he was "presumed guilty."

So as 2019 drew to a close, the former boss of Renault-Nissan made a break for it.

- 'Bullet train' -

Ghosn's escape started with him simply walking out of his luxury central Tokyo residence on December 29.

According to Japanese media, he met two US citizens in a nearby hotel and the trio took a shinkansen bullet train from Shinagawa, a major Tokyo hub, to Osaka in western Japan. The trip took around three hours.

"On the shinkansen journey, there were dozens of people in the carriage, but I was wearing a cap, a facemask and sunglasses. You'd have had to be a real expert to recognise me under all that," Ghosn wrote in a book published last year.

The three men entered a hotel near Kansai International Airport, but security camera footage showed only the two Americans leaving, carrying "two big boxes" -- with Ghosn apparently packed inside one of them.

It later emerged that oversized baggage being loaded onto private planes was not X-rayed at the airport because there were no machines big enough to scan them. Reports said holes were drilled into the case to ensure Ghosn could breathe.

In his book, Ghosn said it was when he arrived on the tarmac at the airport that he "began to believe success was possible."

"The sound of the plane was the sound of hope."

- 'Clandestine getaway' -

The private plane whisked him to Istanbul, where he boarded a second private jet to Beirut.

Two Turkish pilots and a Turkish airline employee would eventually be sentenced to four years and two months in prison for their role in helping Ghosn.

Two other pilots were acquitted in the case.

While Ghosn initially declined to give details of his escape, Japanese prosecutors later named Michael Taylor and his son Peter as accomplices, along with a third man George Antoine Zayek, who remains at large.

Michael Taylor, 60, is a former US special forces operative described by the Wall Street Journal as an "expert in the art of clandestine getaways".

- Passport roulette -

Jet-setting Ghosn held three nationalities: French, Brazilian and Lebanese, but under his bail terms his passports were meant to be kept locked up.

After his escape, however, it emerged that Ghosn was allowed to access a second French passport in case he needed to prove his visa status while travelling in Japan -- which was allowed under his bail conditions.

Airport documents in Lebanon seen by AFP showed Ghosn entered the country on a French passport.

- International fugitive -

Interpol, the international police cooperation body, issued a "red notice" for Ghosn's arrest, but Beirut and Tokyo do not have an extradition agreement under which he could be sent back to Japan.

He was forced to offer an apology in Lebanon for having travelled to neighbouring Israel while head of Renault-Nissan. Lebanese law bans citizens from m visiting the Jewish state while the countries technically remain at war.

Meanwhile, Ghosn's former aide at Nissan Greg Kelly went on trial in Tokyo from September 2020, facing a single charge of underreporting the former chief's salary.

Ghosn has also been grilled in Beirut by French investigators over various alleged financial improprieties, but said he considers those proceedings to be fair.


Source: AFP