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Japan charges Americans with helping Ghosn flee, jump bail

FILE—This Dec. 30, 2019 image from security camera video shows Michael L. Taylor, center, and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey. Japanese prosecutors have charged two Americans, Michael Taylor and his son Peter, in connection with the escape of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn to Lebanon. (DHA via AP, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors charged two Americans, Michael Taylor and his son Peter, Monday in the escape of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn to Lebanon, while he was out on bail.

Tokyo District Prosecutors have been questioning the Taylors since they were extradited from the United States earlier this month. They have been detained at a Tokyo detention center since March 2.

Prosecutors said the Taylors were formally charged with helping a criminal escape, although dates and other details of a trial were undecided. The prosecutors sought their extradition for months after they were arrested and detained in the U.S. last May.

Tokyo Deputy Chief Prosecutor Hiroshi Yamamoto said Monday was the last day the Taylors could have been detained without charges under Japanese law.

Now that they have been charged they can continue to be detained. A court will decide whether they will be granted bail.

Yamamoto said prosecutors are requesting continued detention on the grounds the two might flee or conceal evidence. He declined to elaborate on the Taylors’ health and other conditions, but said appropriate procedures were being taken.

“We continue to be grateful to the U.S. authorities for their cooperation and hope to proceed with the trial,” he said, referring to the Taylors’ extradition.

The Taylors were not immediately available for comment, as is standard in Japan’s criminal system, where more than 99% of those who go on trial are found guilty.

Ghosn, who led Nissan Motor Co. for nearly two decades, was arrested in November 2018 and later charged with under-reporting his compensation and breach of trust.

He jumped bail and escaped to Lebanon in December 2019. Ghosn says he is innocent. Japan has put Ghosn on Interpol’s wanted list, but Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

Yamamoto said Japan was still determined to see Ghosn put on trial.

Michael Taylor, 60, with the help of another man, George-Antoine Zayek, hid Ghosn in a large black box supposedly containing audio equipment, although they knew Ghosn was not allowed to leave the country while awaiting trial, according to the prosecutors.

The box passed through airport security in Osaka, central Japan, and was loaded onto a private jet that flew Ghosn to Turkey.

Peter Taylor, 28, is accused of meeting with Ghosn and helping his father carry out the escape. Authorities say the Taylors were paid at least $1.3 million.

The Taylors’ lawyers in the U.S. fought the extradition, saying they might be treated unfairly in Japan and subjected to “mental and physical torture.”

They also argued that jumping bail is not a crime under Japanese law. That is technically accurate, but most people who escape are easily caught in Japan.

Zayek is not in custody. Yamamoto declined to comment on Zayek’s whereabouts.

Japanese prosecutors say they have enough evidence to convict the Taylors.

If convicted, the Taylors face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,900).

Separately, Greg Kelly, a former Nissan executive vice president, is on trial on charges of under-reporting Ghosn’s compensation. Kelly, an American, says he is innocent as he did not know about such actions.

Nissan, as a company, is also standing trial. Nissan has acknowledged wrongdoing.

A verdict is not expected for months.

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