A man, left, believed to be former US special forces member Michael Taylor, who allegedly staged the operation to help fly former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn out of Japan in 2019, is escorted by Japanese officers as he gets on a bus after arriving at Narita airport in Chiba prefecture on March 2, 2021 following his extradition from the US. Photo: AFP / Kazuhiro Nogi

A Japan court on Monday sentenced an American father-son duo who helped former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn flee the country to between 20 months and two years in prison.

The sentence is the first handed down in Japan in the Nissan saga, which began with former auto tycoon Ghosn’s shock arrest in Japan in 2018 on financial misconduct allegations.

Former US special forces operative Michael Taylor was sentenced to two years, while his son Peter received a sentence of 20 months.

The Taylors did not contest the allegations against them, admitting their role in the audacious escape that left Ghosn an international fugitive in Lebanon.

They had been facing up to three years in prison over the escape, which US prosecutors described as “one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history.”

The pair had both apologized in previous hearings, expressing remorse for helping Ghosn jump bail as he awaited trial in 2019.

Japanese prosecutors said earlier this month they were seeking a sentence of two years, 10 months for Michael, and two years, six months for Peter.

Their defense lawyers had argued that a suspended sentence was appropriate given their remorse.

They also argued that the pair’s 10-month detention in the United States before extradition should be considered in sentencing. The Taylors arrived in Tokyo in March after losing their battle against extradition.

At their first hearing, in June, prosecutors described the almost-cinematic details of the operation – including that Ghosn was hidden in a large case with air holes drilled into it to slip past security at an airport.

He told the BBC recently about the experience, describing the half-hour in the box waiting for the plane to take off as “probably the longest wait I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

A third man, identified as George Antoine Zayek, is also accused of involvement in the escape but remains at large.

According to the prosecution, the Ghosn family paid the Taylors more than US$860,000 for preparation and logistical costs, and $500,000 in cryptocurrency for lawyers’ fees.

International fallout

Ghosn’s escape started with him simply walking out of his luxury central Tokyo residence on December 29, 2019, and taking a shinkansen bullet train to Osaka in western Japan.

“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 recognize me under all that,” Ghosn wrote in a book published last year.

He met Michael Taylor in a hotel in Osaka and was smuggled onto a private jet in the infamous equipment case.

Ghosn transited in Turkey before arriving in Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan and has resisted calls from Tokyo to return the fugitive to face justice.

The fallout from the saga that began in 2018 with Ghosn’s spectacular arrest in Tokyo has been vast.

Nissan’s CEO was forced out after his own financial irregularities were uncovered in a probe that followed Ghosn’s arrest.

Meanwhile, a former Nissan aide to Ghosn, Greg Kelly, is awaiting the verdict in his trial in Japan. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of financial misconduct.

And two pilots and another employee of a small private airline in Turkey have been sentenced to four years and two months for their role in Ghosn’s escape.

Ghosn himself remains in Lebanon, largely beyond the reach of prosecutors despite active investigations in several countries.

In May, he was questioned by French investigators in Lebanon over a series of alleged financial improprieties.

But he was only heard as a witness and would need to be in France to be formally indicted.

Ghosn has always denied the financial misconduct allegations made against him, arguing the charges were cooked up by Nissan officials angry about his attempt to further integrate the firm with its French partner Renault.

He says he fled Japan because he did not believe he would receive a fair trial and has not gone to France for fear that he could be extradited to Tokyo.