The sophistication and complexity of Carlos Ghosn’s daring escape from Japan was highlighted by reports that the fugitive auto executive employed a former Green Beret, the U.S. special forces soldiers trained in deception and counterinsurgency, to help his undercover operation.
The revelation came as Japan’s Justice Minister came down hard on Mr. Ghosn’s decision to jump bail as he awaited his trial for financial misconduct, and as a small army of international journalists in Lebanon hunted for his whereabouts.
Mr. Ghosn, 65, the former boss of Nissan and Renault and the creator of the world’s only global auto-making alliance, fled from Japan to Beirut on Dec. 30 using a private jet and changing planes in Istanbul. He and his wife, Carole, were photographed at a New Year’s Eve party in Beirut. He has not been seen since.
His Paris public relations agency, Image 7, said Mr. Ghosn plans to hold a news conference in Beirut later this week.
On Sunday afternoon, about a dozen reporters and cameramen, many from Japan, were crowded onto the sidewalk across from his large, traditional house in central Beirut, looking for any sign of Mr. Ghosn or his wife, both of whom have Lebanese citizenship (Mr. Ghosn also has passports from France and Brazil, where he was born).
There was a brief flurry of excitement when the garage doors opened to allow the quick entry of a Toyota SUV, but the darkened windows made it impossible to tell who was inside. “My colleagues saw his wife the other day,” said Keita Miyazaki, a cameraman with TBS, a private Japanese broadcaster. “No one has seen Carlos and we don’t know if he is here. It’s very boring standing here.”
Various local reports said Mr. Ghosn might not be in the house and could be at the vineyard he co-founded in the hills north of Beirut, or at a house owned by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who warmly greeted him after he reached Beirut a week ago. Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan, meaning Mr. Ghosn seems in no danger of being sent back to Japan to face trail even though Interpol as issued a “red notice” for his arrest.
How exactly Mr. Ghosn engineered his escape and how much the caper cost him are still mysteries, though more clues are emerging every day.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Ghosn took flight with the help of two Americans, one who had been a Green Beret and has substantial experience in hostage crisis situations. He was identified as Michael Taylor, who began his military career as a paratrooper before working undercover for U.S. law enforcement and, later, starting a security firm. Early in the last decade, he and his firm were investigated for contract fraud and money laundering in connection to Pentagon contracts he had secured. He pleaded guilty to wire and honest-services fraud and was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
The New York Times reported that Mr. Taylor, who has a Lebanese wife, and Mr. Ghosn were connected months ago by Lebanese intermediaries, suggesting that Mr. Ghosn’s escape had been in the works for a long time. Mr. Ghosn also reportedly used George Antoine-Zayek, who worked for a variety of security firms, including Mr. Taylor’s. Little is known about him.
The reports, citing flight manifests, said that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Antoine-Zayek accompanied Mr. Ghosn on his first two flights, from Toyko to Osaka, then to Istanbul, but not on his final flight to Beirut.
Mr. Ghosn said after his arrival in Beirut that he was fleeing “injustice” in Japan, whether 99 per cent of those indicted are convicted. The Lebanese authorities said he entered Lebanon on a French passport and Lebanese ID. The French passport was apparently a duplicate. His French, Brazilian and Lebanese passports were surrendered in Japan after his arrest in late 2018 for a variety of alleged crimes, including understating his pay and breach of trust for having Nissan cover his investment losses.
The Japanese authorities said there are no public records of Mr. Ghosn’s departure.
On Sunday, Masako Mori, Japan’s Justice Minister, called Mr. Ghosn’s flight illegal and unjustifiable. “It is believed that he used some wrongful methods to illegally leave the country,” she said. “It is extremely regrettable that we have come to this situation.”
Mr. Ghosn’s escape has come as an embarrassment to the Japanese. He was reportedly able to walk out of his apartment undetected wearing a hat and face mask in spite of round-the-clock surveillance. Mr. Ghosn said that his wife had nothing to do with his flight. His strict bail conditions forbade him from seeing her.
Although Mr. Ghosn has a French passport, it seems unlikely he will visit France any time soon. That’s because French police are probing the circumstances under which he was allowed to use the Palace of Versailles for his lavish Marie Antoinette-themed marriage to Carole in 2016.
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