Three employees of a Turkish airline have been convicted for their involvement in former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s dramatic escape from Japan.
The Istanbul court sentenced two pilots and a manager of the private charter company MNG Jet to four years and two months in prison for human smuggling. They are likely to avoid prison sentences after already serving six months in pre-trial detention.
The court acquitted four other employees — two other pilots and two stewardesses — on trial for aiding the executive’s daring escape from Osaka, Japan, to Beirut. The defendants had faced up to eight years in prison.
Japanese authorities detained Ghosn in November 2018 on charges that he had under-reported tens of millions of dollars in compensation and misused company funds while serving at the helm of the country’s second-biggest car manufacturer.
Ghosn jumped bail in December 2019 by hiding in a box that was loaded on to a private jet that eventually brought him to his childhood home of Lebanon, which does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. Ghosn has denied the charges and said he fled because he would not have received a fair trial in Japan.
Those found guilty in Turkey are free pending an appeal against their conviction. Even if the verdict is upheld, the men are not expected to serve time after spending half of last year in jail ahead of the trial and because they had no previous criminal record, said lawyer Erem Yucel.
Noyan Pasin, a pilot on the Osaka-Istanbul flight, said he believed
that his conviction was an attempt to “save face for Japan and Turkey” and to avoid a diplomatic incident. He denied knowing that Ghosn was hiding in the plane’s cargo.
“We are the only ones in the world who have been blamed and convicted
in connection with [Ghosn’s escape],” he said. “No one working security, customs or immigration at the Japanese airport has been tried.”
“While Ghosn is comfortably living his life in Beirut . . . my life has
been totally disrupted,” said Pasin, who is no longer able to find
work as a pilot.
The trial of the Turkish flight crew is just one of the international cases stemming from Ghosn’s tenure at Nissan and his escape. In Tokyo, former Nissan director Greg Kelly, an American who was arrested on the same day as Ghosn, stands trial for allegedly helping Ghosn conceal his pay.
In the United States, US Army special forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son, Peter Taylor, are battling extradition to Japan. They are accused of masterminding the escape plot.
The US Supreme Court this month rejected the Taylors’ emergency request to pause a lower court order that allows for their extradition. Lawyers for the men have now asked the US state department to intervene, Reuters reported.
MNG Jet admitted that two of its jets were used to bring Ghosn from Osaka to Istanbul, then on to Lebanon. But the Istanbul-based company accused its operations manager, Okan Kosemen, of arranging the contract without the knowledge of senior management. Kosemen was among the men sentenced on Wednesday.
Before his ousting, Ghosn enjoyed celebrity status in Japan for rescuing Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999 following an alliance between the Japanese company and French carmaker Renault, which he had joined in 1996. Ghosn stepped down as Nissan chief executive in 2017 but continued his role as chairman until his arrest. He and his family remain in Beirut.