A few short days after former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s flight from house arrest in Japan to Lebanon was first reported, more details are beginning to emerge.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the plan that secreted Ghosn out of house arrest in Tokyo and across Asia to Lebanon via Turkey was, perhaps expectedly, quite complex, involving the participation of a former Green Beret and the rumored musical instrument cases.
Ghosn had been in Tokyo since he was re-arrested last year for allegedly breaking the terms of his probation from his first arrest last year on allegations of financial crimes while at the helm of the Nissan Empire.
Ghosn’s release to house arrest came after he paid a record $14 million in bail and agreed to probation terms that significantly limited his ability to communicate with his family, subjected him to close surveillance, and removed his passports from his possession.
All of this changed on Monday afternoon when reports of the former President of Nissan’s arrival in Lebanon began trickling in. The fact that Ghosn ended up in Lebanon was not so surprising (the man holds a Lebanese passport despite being born in Brazil), but the details of just how he got there from the house in Tokyo where he was being held seemed almost too extreme to be true.
The first reports we saw described an escape by instrument case from the house he was being held in. When we first heard these rumors we were awfully skeptical. Japan isn’t the kind of country you can just waltz out of. Aside from being a chain of islands, the country is not exactly known for having porous customs and immigration enforcement.
Now, though, it appears that some of the more far-fetched details have been confirmed, or at least clarified, by new reporting from the Wall Street Journal. A report the Journal published yesterday describes the plan to secret Ghosn out of Japan to Lebanon in greater detail than we had seen before, and even lends particular credence to the “musical instrument case theory” that has captured imaginations.
Ghosn has maintained that he organized his escape from Japan on his own, but even the former chairman of Nissan-Renault needed some help to get the details right. The Journal claims that Ghosn reportedly turned to Michael Taylor, a one-time Green Beret with a reputation in the security contractor world for skilled exfiltration from sticky situations. Taylor allegedly prepared the plane used to remove Ghosn from Japan in Dubai, flying there to meet Ghosn late Sunday night for the flight to Turkey and on to Lebanon.
The plan to remove Ghosn from Japan was reported set in motion after a December 28th hearing that signaled a delay in Mr. Ghosn’s trial proceedings, extending his already long house-arrest even further.
The plan reportedly commenced at around 2:30 PM Sunday, when Ghosn was spotted leaving his house in Tokyo alone, hat and surgical mask covering his face. How Ghosn arrived at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, more than 300 miles from the Tokyo house in which he was being held remains unclear.
Though the details of Ghosn’s transit through Japan to a waiting plane remains a mystery, Turkish authorities have begun to piece together the flight details of Ghosn’s journey, which reportedly did involve the musical instrument cases previously rumored to have played a part. While many of us were picturing a conspicuously legged double bass cover, it seems that Ghosn was actually secreted aboard the plane in a set of wheeled black cases like the ones roadies use to transport stage show equipment. Once onboard in Osaka, this is reportedly how Ghosn made it to Beirut:
Mr. Ghosn’s flight to Istanbul left at 11:10 p.m. Sunday and was in the air for just over 12 hours, passing over Russia before descending to Ataturk airport, according to flight records. In addition to the passengers, the plane carried two pilots and a flight attendant, the people familiar with the Turkish probe said.
On the ground at Ataturk airport Monday morning in driving rain, a ground staff member took a photo of Mr. Ghosn, according to people familiar with the matter. That photo is in the hands of Turkish prosecutors. Mr. Ghosn was then driven in a car some 100 yards across the tarmac to a smaller jet that ferried him to Lebanon on Monday.
Turkey-based aircraft operator MNG Jet Havacilik AS, which operated the two planes used in Mr. Ghosn’s journey, found the black container, and another holding loudspeakers, on the long-range aircraft after its flight from Japan.
Upon arrival in Lebanon, Ghosn released a statement on his escape. In it, Ghosn maintained “I have not fled justice - I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.”
The new details of Ghosn’s journey to Lebanon come after Interpol announced that it had issued a “red notice” for Ghosn to Lebanon. While Interpol maintains that such a notice is not an arrest warrant, it is an instruction to arrest and detain a suspect pending extradition. Still, that does sound serious, even if it seems unlikely that Lebanese authorities will cooperate.
As of now, it appears that Ghosn is safe in Lebanon, at least as far as extradition is concerned. The political situation in the country does remain rather fraught, but Ghosn has reportedly already met with the country’s President Michel Aoun though some local sources deny it.
While Ghosn may be safe from the authorities, for now, Reuters reports that several arrests have already been made in Turkey, where an investigation is ongoing. Among those detained are reportedly the pilots who flew Ghosn from Japan.
As the story of Ghosn’s escape from Japan continues to come into focus, we should keep an eye out for his side of the story later this week on January 8th. That’s when we’re expected to hear from the man himself at a press conference. Until then, we will be here with all of the details as they emerge.
Updated: Saturday, January 4, 2020, 3:51 PM: The Wall Street Journal has obtained a photo that purportedly shows the box Ghosn used to escape Japan: