TOKYO — An American father and son were convicted Monday of helping former Nissan chairman-turned-fugitive Carlos Ghosn escape from Japan in 2019, and they were sentenced to prison by a Tokyo court.

Michael Taylor, 60, and his son Peter Taylor, 28, pleaded guilty last month to helping Ghosn flee Japan while awaiting trial on bail. The Taylors were arrested by U.S. authorities in Massachusetts in spring 2020 and extradited to Japan in March.

Ghosn, 67, was indicted on charges of financial crimes, including underreporting the true extent of his compensation as chairman of the auto company Nissan. He has denied all charges.

A Tokyo court on July 19 sentenced U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor to two years, and his son Peter to one year and eight months, in prison. (Reuters)

The father-son duo admitted to aiding Ghosn’s escape from Japan, during which he was hidden in a box designed for large audio equipment and loaded onto a private jet headed for Lebanon, which does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.

Michael Taylor received a two-year sentence, and Peter Taylor received one year and eight months.

The two men dressed in dark suits and white business shirts with no ties, and remained silent as Chief Judge Hideo Nirei read the verdict, according to media pool reports from the court hearing.

In explaining his decision, Nirei said that the pair were guilty of facilitating Ghosn’s “serious charges” and that Ghosn has no voluntary will to return.

“Because of this case, Ghosn, a defendant facing serious charges, was able to escape overseas,” Nirei said. “It has been one and a half years since the escape, and there is still no prospect of a trial. The consequences of this case are very large.”

Michael Taylor had said he had arrived in Japan for a “dry run” of the escape, and that Ghosn decided at the last minute to carry out the plan. But the judge found that regardless of who made the ultimate decision, both Taylors “pulled off an unprecedented escape to overseas.”

Ghosn’s dramatic escape story became a worldwide sensation, trending on social media and even inspiring a video game. It stunned Japanese officials, who were used to a fairly predictable criminal justice system in which prosecutors have near-perfect conviction rates, and sparked debate over Japan’s practice of monitoring suspects who are out on bail.

The younger Taylor, a businessman, traveled to Japan multiple times in the months preceding the escape in December 2019, according to U.S. court records. On Dec. 28, 2019, he met with Ghosn at a hotel in Tokyo for about an hour, records show. They met without registering the meetings as required under Ghosn’s bail conditions, prosecutors said.

The next day, the elder Taylor, a former Green Beret and private security specialist, and another man, George-Antoine Zayek, traveled on a private jet to Japan’s Kansai International Airport, posed as musicians and carried large cases designed for audio equipment, records show. The men had drilled holes into the box so that Ghosn could breathe, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Ghosn left his home without luggage and arrived back at the hotel, where he changed into clothes that the younger Taylor had left for him, then boarded a bullet train with the elder Taylor and Zayek. The three of them entered a hotel near the Kansai Airport, and only Taylor and Zayek were seen leaving the hotel shortly thereafter — with the audio equipment cases in tow. Zayek has not been arrested.

The two men loaded the luggage onto the private jet, which departed for Turkey and then eventually Lebanon. Ghosn is a Lebanese, Brazilian and French national.

The Taylors are the first to be convicted in a case with multiple suspects.

In a hearing last month, Michael Taylor said he had decided to help Ghosn plan his escape because he “felt sympathy” when he heard through a family friend that Ghosn was experiencing difficulties in solitary confinement. Ghosn has complained of an “anachronistic and inhumane” system and said he was “interrogated day and night.”

Ghosn had wired more than $860,000 to Peter Taylor’s company, which was used to charter the private jet and finance the escape, Michael Taylor said. Peter Taylor said he was unaware that the escape had happened, and that he found out about the escape through news coverage.

On Monday, Nirei ruled that the two men were motivated by compensation to help Ghosn. Of the $860,000, about $400,000 was spent on the private jet, Nirei said.

“I helped Carlos Ghosn escape Japan while he was on bail,” Michael Taylor said as he bowed to prosecutors during last month’s hearing. “I deeply regret my actions and sincerely apologize for causing difficulties for the judicial process and for the Japanese people.”

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