A Turkish court has convicted an executive and two pilots of a small airline on charges of 'migrant smuggling' for their roles in businessman Carlos Ghosn's spectacular evacuation from Japan, where the former Renault-Nissan chair faced charges of financial misdeeds, to his mansion in Lebanon.
On Wednesday, the Istanbul court sentenced the executive and two pilots of Turkish airline MNG on them to four years and two months in prison. Two other pilots and two air hostesses were acquitted of the same charge.
Judges found the three employees of the small private airline committed the offenses by helping the former auto industry CEO travel undetected from Japan to Lebanon via Istanbul in a musical instrument case in December 2019.
Carlos Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was arrested in Japan in late 2018 and charged with underreporting his salary and using company funds for personal purposes - charges he denies.
After 130 days in a Tokyo jail, the ousted chairman of the alliance between carmakers Renault of France and Nissan and Mitsubishi of Japan had been awaiting his trial under house arrest when he secretly jumped bail and fled to Beirut.
Trial sheds light on escape
Turkish authorities detained the executive, Okan Kosemen, and the four pilots in January 2020 and charged them with migrant smuggling. All defendants pled not guilty to the charges.
The Turkish investigation found the 66-year-old Ghosn travelled from Osaka to Istanbul hidden in a large musical instrument case with 70 holes bored into it to allow him to breathe.
After arriving at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul, Ghosn allegedly boarded another plane and flew to Beirut, his childhood home.
Investigators said two acquaintances of Ghosn, former American special forces agent Michael Taylor and Lebanese man George-Antoine Zayek, recruited Kosemen to oversee the voyage.
In a separate procedure, Japanese authorities are seeking the extradition of Taylor and his son Peter, also allegedly involved in organising the escape, from the United States. The father-son pair are currently in a Boston jail.
Former Nissan CEO praises Ghosn
The saga jeopardised the Renault-Nissan alliance that Ghosn was credited with building and increased scrutiny of Japan's judicial system, in which more than 99% of criminal trials result in convictions.
Also on Wednesday, a Tokyo courtroom heard testimony of a former Nissan executive in the trial of Ghosn's former associate Greg Kelly, similarly on trial for financial misconduct.
Former Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told the court he supported Ghosn's retirement packages because he believed the chair's pay was low "by international standards" and wanted to prevent him from leaving.
"Mr. Ghosn had outstanding abilities and achievements," Saikawa told the Tokyo District Court. "We need to prepare for Mr. Ghosn's eventual retirement to keep him motivated and to have him continue to work for Nissan."
At the Kelly trial, Saikawa told he court he had signed several draft documents on remuneration packages for Ghosn, including retirement pay, consultant fees and a non-compete agreement to prevent him from moving to a competitor.
Kelly, an American former Nissan executive, is facing trial on allegations that he failed to fully disclose Ghosn's compensation.
He denies any wrongdoing.