The former Green Beret who smuggled disgraced Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn out of Japan has spoken out to reveal the details of the plot.
Michael Taylor, 59, and his son Peter are currently being held in U.S. federal custody pending an extradition request from Japan, where they are charged in Ghosn’s brazen December escape.
The elder Taylor revealed the intricate details of the plot for a lengthy article published in Vanity Fair on Thursday, in which he minimizes his son’s involvement and claims he didn’t even make money off of the audacious scheme.
Ghosn, the powerful former chairman of Nissan, had been under house arrest in Tokyo, where he faced criminal charges of underreporting $80 million in earnings, shifting $16 million in personal losses onto the company books, and using Nissan to secretly fund his lavish lifestyle.
Michael Taylor, 59, is currently being held in U.S. federal custody pending an extradition request from Japan, where he is charged in Ghosn’s brazen December escape
Taylor used a custom built subwoofer box (right) to smuggle Ghosn out of Japan
Taylor, who had worked as a security contractor and orchestrated numerous international ‘extraction’ missions for wealthy clients, told the magazine that he first got a call about Ghosn in the spring of 2019.
The Lebanese middleman, whom Taylor had worked with before, told him: ‘We got a guy. He’s close to us. He’s getting railroaded over in Japan. Is there something you can help us with?’
Taylor accepted the job, and over the following months assembled a crack team of experts in maritime operations, airport security, IT, police and countersurveillance. Most were former Special Forces operators whom he’d met in the military.
Taylor says he called his attorney and other legal experts and asked whether helping someone in Japan jump bail would violate any U.S. laws, and was assured it would not.
After initially considering sneaking Ghosn out by sea, Taylor rejected the plan, noting that it would require crossing 2,600 miles of open water to Thailand before boarding a plane to Lebanon.
Ghosn, who was born in Brazil, also has French and Lebanese nationality. He knew he could be assured of his protection from extradition in Lebanon, which has a blanket policy of declining to extradite its own citizens, and where he is regarded as a national hero.
Ghosn has vehemently denied all of the charges against him, and claimed that his prosecution was motivated by Japanese xenophobia.
Taylor describes how he settled on a plan to extract Ghosn by air. A private charter plane was needed because Ghosn’s notoriety made escape by commercial air travel impossible.
This handout video grab image released by The Istanbul Police Department on January 17, 2020, shows Michael Taylor (2R) and George Antoine Zayek (C) at passport control in Istanbul
TC-RZA, a private jet which was used during the escape of ousted Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn from Japan to Lebanon through Turkey, is pictured in an unknown location
The former Green Beret and his team studied five airports near Tokyo, and found a key flaw at Kansai International—the terminal did not have scanners big enough to accommodate cargo the size of a box that could hold a human.
Taylor and his team created a set of custom subwoofer cases, one large enough to accommodate the 165-pound Ghosn, with air holes drilled discreetly in the bottom.
Taylor also discovered a crucial flaw in the security maintaining Ghosn’s house arrest. Though he was under surveillance at all times by two plainclothes detectives paid for by Nissan and three cameras pointed at his door, the cameras were not a live feed.
Instead, the cameras recorded locally, and the tapes were picked once a week. The day the tapes were collected varied, but it was always a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. An escape on Thursday might go undetected until the following week.
The plot unfolded on December 29. Taylor and his team landed at Osaka at 10.30am in a private plane chartered through a Turkish company that promised to ask no questions.
Ghosn walked out of his front door the same afternoon, disguised in a hat and a surgical mask, which were common in Japan even before the pandemic, and walked to the Grand Hyatt, where he was often allowed to have lunch.
The residence of former auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn is seen in Tokyo after his escape
Investigators claim that Ghosn met Taylor in a room at the Hyatt booked under Taylor’s son’s name — however Taylor denied this to Vanity Fair, saying that he met Ghosn in the lobby.
Taylor, his Lebanese accomplice George Zayek, and Ghosn then took a high-speed train from Tokyo to Osaka. A little before 10pm, Taylor says he explained to the airport manager that his party was running late and needed to rush through security, offering a $10,000 tip in Japanese yen.
Ghosn, now inside a custom-built sub-woofer box, was transported to the airport just 20 minutes before the charter flight’s scheduled take-off at 10.30pm.
The airport security staff and baggage handlers had been working all day, and the wearied staff did not give the group or their cargo a second look.
‘Nothing got x-rayed, not even our backpacks,’ Taylor recalled.
Taylor says that after loading the group’s luggage, including the box with Ghosn inside, one of the workers handed Taylor the envelope with the ‘tip’ he had offered the manager, saying it was against airport policy to accept cash gifts.
Designed to look like a case for a subwoofer, the box used to smuggle Ghosn had air holes drilled discreetly on the bottom
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn and his wife Carole Ghosn talk during an interview with Reuters in Beirut, Lebanon after his escape from Japan
Though the heist was rumored to cost $30 million, court documents show about $1.3 million in transfers from Ghosn to Taylor, allegedly through a company and cyptocurrency account controlled by Taylor’s son.
Taylor, however, told Vanity Fair that expenses for the scheme ran about $1.3 million, and that he made no profit from the venture. Ghosn, he says, has not offered to pay him. Taylor says he did it ‘de oppresso liber,’ to liberate the oppressed, the motto of the Special Forces
‘If I did it for the money,’ he told the magazine, ‘that money would have been paid in advance.’
Taylor and his son are being held without bail in the U.S., where prosecutors say they pose a severe flight risk due to the nature of the charges, which involve vast and complicated plots to flee across international borders.
The Taylors argue the charges against them are fatally flawed as the Japanese penal code does not make it a criminal offense to help someone ‘bail jump’ unless that person is in custody.
A federal judge will hear arguments on their latest bid for bail on Tuesday.