A man walks past the main gate of the Tokyo district court where former US special forces member Michael Taylor and his son Peter, who allegedly staged the operation to help fly former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in 2019, arrived at the court in Tokyo on June 14. Photo: AFP / Philip Fong

As expected, Mike and Peter Taylor, the father and son who allegedly engineered Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan in late December 2019, pled guilty in a Tokyo court on June 14. They are facing prison terms of up to three years.

I still use the word “allegedly” because what we saw was a show trial, Hanoi Hilton redux. The Taylors, if they hoped ever to get back to their homes in the United States and Lebanon, had no choice but to confess and make a propaganda statement about their treatment in detention.

Mike Taylor, a former decorated member of the US Army’s Green Beret Special Forces unit, reportedly told prosecutors what they wanted to hear: that the treatment meted out had been “fair and professional” and that he and Peter hadn’t been tortured.

Facts: As of today, the Taylors have spent 106 days in solitary confinement, where they almost assuredly have experienced sensory deprivation and isolation. They still haven’t been able to communicate with their family and, for reasons that probably should be investigated, have not yet met with the news media.

Bloomberg News reported that Mike looked “frail.” The Wall Street Journal said they both looked “tired.”

Of course, they looked worse for wear. They had been forced to spend more than 23 hours a day in tiny 7.2-square meter cells, as is customary for prisoners segregated from the general prison population, sitting on tatami mat floors and allowed to go outside for less than 30 minutes a day, but not at all on weekends. They hadn’t been allowed to speak to each other for more than 15 weeks.

The only people they had seen daily were their jailers, the prosecutors, their lawyers on an as-need basis and, occasionally, someone from the US Embassy who checks in on them.

They had been betrayed by the US government, which not only supported their extradition but litigated it as aggressively as if they were members of a drug cartel and not two guys who allegedly helped someone break bail – for which there is no law in Japan, and thus no crime – or commit an immigration violation.

Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan and Renault whom Mike Taylor did help to escape (whether or not Peter was involved), described the conditions they were going to face in a statement to the US federal court where the Taylors’ extradition was adjudicated. 

“To disorient and discomfort me,” Ghosn wrote to the court, “the lights were left on at all times and I was denied access to any time-keeping devices. The cell’s only window was blurred and recessed so that I couldn’t tell what time of the day it was.”

Michael Taylor in a file photo. Image: Facebook

The Taylors will hit the 119-day mark in solitary confinement by their next court appearance at the end of June. To put that in context, 119 days is eight times longer than the maximum period set by the United Nations General Assembly’s Nelson Mandela Rules.

It’s not being overly dramatic to say that their treatment by the Tokyo prosecutors is a human rights violation. General Assembly Resolution 70/175 stipulates that solitary confinement of more than 22 hours per day is prohibited and that the maximum confinement period is 15 days.

Rule 45 of the UN resolution says: “Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort.”

Neither the Taylors, nor Carlos Ghosn before them, are threats of any sort. Thus there is no legal justification for their extended solitary confinement.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, reported last year that “the severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion … may well amount to psychological torture.”

The UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment considers psychological torture to be torture. Japan signed the convention and ignores it.

Moving on to the Taylors’ confessions: Since I didn’t attend the proceedings, I must rely on the accounts of a small number of reporters who had access to the courtroom.

The prosecutors laid out details of the escape, which Mike Taylor didn’t dispute. Mike and George Zayek, Mike’s longtime associate, traveled with Ghosn from Tokyo to Osaka on December 29, where they loaded Ghosn into a large black musical instrument box.

The three of them, who earlier in the day had met up with Peter at Peter’s Tokyo hotel before setting off by taxi and then bullet train for Osaka, boarded a private business jet to Istanbul with connections to Beirut shortly before midnight.

After briefly meeting with the party, Peter traveled separately to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport east of the city and landed in China before any of the Osaka operation took place.

Why Peter was in Japan remains a mystery. The prosecutors have argued that he was part of the operation. If so, it would have been a minor part because Peter had no operational training and the mission his father planned was dangerous. 

To the extent that getting Ghosn through immigration and out of Japan is a crime – civil law countries like Germany and Japan require there to be a law, otherwise there is no crime – the case is clear-cut.

Other parts of the prosecution’s case are less clear-cut and some in direct conflict with other information about the escape and Peter’s business dealings with Ghosn. 

Among them: The Wall Street Journal reported that Mike Taylor first met with Carole Ghosn, Ghosn’s wife, in June 2019. This is key to the prosecution’s narrative because it insinuates that the plan was hatched six months before the escape.

Peter Taylor first met Ghosn in July in Tokyo, the first of four trips to Japan, the latter two in December.

The Associated Press reported that Peter Taylor’s company, Promote Fox LLC, received two bank transfers from Ghosn in October 2019, four months after his initial meeting with Ghosn. The total came to US$862,500.

The prosecutors argued that that money was used to charter a plane and pay for other expenses related to the escape. They offered no apparent proof except the Taylors’ confessions, which were made under duress.

Ghosn disputes the prosecutors’ claims. In his book co-written with French journalist Philippe Ries, Le Temps de la Vérité (Time for the Truth), he asserts:

Contrary to media reports, the exfiltration did not require long months of preparation – even if Japanese authorities had every reason to save face by allowing credit to be given to the idea of a very costly and complex operation. Decisions and measures followed one after the other from the beginning of December, leading to the launch of the operation on December 29. I made the decision at the end of November when the judge in charge of bail forbade – for the eighth time – a meeting with my wife over Christmas. There was no procedural justification. It was sadism.

Secondly, the other judge, the presiding judge, reversed his earlier decision under pressure from the prosecutors and announced that trial on the second charge would not start until the first had been dealt with. I understood that the affair would take five years – even before any eventual conviction – and I knew that I didn’t want anything more to do with Japan. Those two judges pushed me to leave.

It is possible that Ghosn wasn’t being entirely truthful in order to protect his wife, who is also still a target of the Tokyo prosecutors office, which has issued a separate warrant for her arrest. But there is other evidence to support Ghosn’s claims: a contract with Peter Taylor.

Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn arrives with his wife Carole for a press conference on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan, where he is accused of financial misconduct, at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut on January 8, 2020. Photo: AFP

Ghosn and Promote Fox LLC, Peter Taylor’s digital marketing company, entered into a public relations/media relations service contract on October 3, 2019.

Ghosn made his first payment from HSBC Bank in Paris to Bank of America in Westford, Massachusetts, on October 9, 2019. The amount: $540,000. He made a second payment for $322,500 on October 25. The same banks were involved.

When I sought details about Peter’s digital marketing business, I was told it involved “search engine optimization to boost articles.” The explanation I was given: “If somebody finds an article favorable to their client, they boost it worldwide on the internet so that when anyone Googles the individual’s name the good articles pop up first.”

So that would allow a person like Ghosn to plan a strategy to deal with the negative press, I asked?

“Exactly,” my source said. “It buries the negative articles and puts the positive ones up top, and it is done worldwide on several search engines.”

I was never able to speak to Peter. The Norfolk County Sheriff’s Jail in Massachusetts where the Taylors were confined and which is only 50 minutes up the Interstate from my home in Providence, Rhode Island, was in lockdown due to Covid by the time I got onto the story. Thus no visitors were allowed.

But from people who know the family I learned that Peter attended a prep school in Massachusetts where he played football, then graduated from Lebanese American University with a degree in business and finance. He has no military or special-ops experience.

He lived in Beirut more than half of each year. His mother is Lebanese. He speaks Arabic and Spanish in addition to English, surely someone who, just looking at his resume, might qualify to be a member of Ghosn’s global PR team. Yes, Ghosn had assembled a team of public and media relations specialists to try to rehabilitate his reputation.

Might Peter have been involved in the tail end of the mission? Perhaps, but surely not at the beginning, and even at the end there are inconsistencies in the government’s case.

One such red flag: the wire transfers ostensibly used to fund the escape. Why would Ghosn, who had to believe he was being watched by the Tokyo prosecutors office, have made two large payments to finance his escape through largely insecure wire transfers from one international bank to another international bank?

Photos courtesy Rudy Michael Taylor show former US special forces member Michael Taylor and his son Peter, posing together years apart. Photos: AFP / Taylor family

It doesn’t pass the smell test if Ghosn thought he was being watched. And he knew he was being watched. Remember, every person Ghosn met at his Japanese lawyer’s office was logged and reported to the prosecutors.

When the Hironaka Law Office reported that Peter Taylor would be visiting in July, then again in August (he wouldn’t come back to Japan until December), the prosecutors would have learned everything about him, including who his father is.

Surely there were other ways for Ghosn or someone representing him in Lebanon to pay for a private jet so as not to draw unnecessary attention to his plans to escape. Ghosn is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

It is more believable that, as has been reported, that Peter Taylor, a young businessman in Beirut, carried gifts, food and DVDs back and forth between Ghosn and his wife as a personal favor because the prosecutors had cut off communications between them.

The prosecutors then charged Peter Taylor with having arranged for Ghosn to change his clothing in Peter’s Tokyo hotel room on December 29, 2019. Peter had arrived in Japan the day before, his fourth trip, and had a meeting with Ghosn at the hotel.

It is not clear if the prosecutors had been notified of this meeting, thus whether Ghosn had already broken his bail agreement, which required notifying the prosecutors’ office of any visits.

The problem with this narrative is that it makes no sense, even though it’s a great “gotcha” issue, because although Ghosn’s daughter, Maya, brought one or two suitcases to Peter Taylor’s hotel shortly after 2pm on December 29 (can’t tell how many from the hotel’s surveillance footage), that also means that either she or her father would have packed the suitcases, not Peter Taylor.

Signage of the Tokyo Detention Center, where former US special forces member Michael Taylor and his son Peter, who allegedly staged the operation to help fly former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in 2019, are held in Tokyo. Photo: AFP / Charly Triballeau

And surely, if Peter had been entrusted to carry back a suitcase full of gifts to Ghosn’s wife in Lebanon, as he had done in the past – and remember that on this particular trip the prosecutors had denied Ghosn’s request to spend Christmas with his wife several weeks earlier – Peter Taylor wouldn’t have opened something that was clearly personal.

This has always given the appearance of a made-up charge because Carlos Ghosn was one of the most recognizable people in Japan and clearly the most recognizable foreigner. Changing his suit wouldn’t change that. The right Japanese word for imagining otherwise is baka, or dumb.

Since the Japanese made a big issue about the money to fund the escape in their evidence to the US Department of Justice and federal court in the extradition case, it is worth noting that they’ve now contradicted themselves.

Both the AP and The Wall Street Journal reported that the prosecution now accepts Mike Taylor’s claims that $500,000 of the $1.3 million alleged to fund his escape was Carlos Ghosn’s paying part of his legal expenses, and thus had nothing to do with the escape.

Mike didn’t return to Massachusetts until February 16, 2020, while the Lebanese government investigated the escape. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in Lebanon.

Anthony Ghosn, Carlos’s American-born son, made four Coinbase payments between January 21 and February 14 out of a total of seven payments. The remaining three payments were made monthly through the middle of May.

Ghosn’s son, who runs an investment business in San Francisco and whose privacy was clearly violated by the Tokyo prosecutors office and Coinbase Inc, should finally be cleared of any suspicion of involvement in his father’s escape. Every major news outlet in the world reported the Tokyo prosecutors’ office’s false accusation.

It makes one wonder about other leaks and smears emanating from that office – and how much they’ve gotten wrong.

So where does that leave us?

We must now wait to see how long this show trial continues and if the Taylors’ Hanoi Hilton confession is sufficient to shorten their sentences including being given credit for time served (more than nine months) in the US.

I have written before that Mike deserves a medal for having moved Ghosn out of Japan. My opinion hasn’t changed now that I know about the dirty dealings that went on inside Nissan.

Nor should anyone consider the Taylors’ trial legitimate. There is still no crime proved that is more serious than merely assisting someone to jump bail, which again is not a crime in Japan, or helping someone violate the country’s immigration procedures, the main penalty being deportation.

Now there’s an idea to bring this messy affair to a close. Deport them.

Roger Schreffler, who has been covering the Ghosn affair closely for Asia Times, is a veteran correspondent for Ward’s Automotive and a former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.