Wanted! Superstar CEO turned Fugitive: Father and son smugglers jailed whilst Carlos Ghosn himself evades arrest

August 26, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Last month a father and son from the USA were sentenced to serve prison time in Japan following the part they played in former automotive chief Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan in 2019. 

What does this mean?

The story of the rise, fall, arrest and escape of Carlos Ghosn, former CEO superstar, has captured the imagination of people across the world.

Ghosn’s career, prior to his arrest in 2018, was an international success story. He transformed the fortunes of both Japan’s Nissan and France’s Renault, and at both companies he was later made CEO. He then became the boss of a three-way alliance with Mitsubishi, creating the world’s second largest car manufacturer. Ghosn became a globe-trotting CEO celebrity, attending red carpet events, making TV appearances and landing magazine features. He was even the protagonist of a best-selling manga series called The True Life of Carlos Ghosn, which depicted how he transformed Nissan and became a Japanese business hero.  

In 2019, the US Securities and Exchange Commission brought a fraud case against Ghosn, alleging that at Nissan he had hidden $140m from investors. Ghosn settled the case, 

paying $1m dollars himself and Nissan paying $15m. Doubts were beginning to form among those who worked alongside Ghosn, with many concerned that his leadership had become a dictatorship or personality cult, and that he was relying on the memory of his past business successes to maintain his grip on power. Ghosn was planning to fully merge Nissan with Renault, and people inside Nissan were terrified that this deal would see power taken away from the Japanese company and handed over to the French. 

In 2018 Carlos Ghosn was arrested as his plane landed in Tokyo. He was locked up for 108 days and then released on bail. He was under house arrest, unable to see his wife, with 24hour surveillance and trails whenever he left the house. From here, in December 2019, Ghosn pulled off his great escape. 

Ghosn rode a bullet train, concealed behind a face mask (these were common in Japan even pre-pandemic). He met his associates in a hotel where he was concealed within a box used to transport audio equipment. Then Michael Taylor and his son Peter, smuggled Ghosn onto a private jet. When the plane took off Ghosn could emerge from his box, a free man! He flew from Japan to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Beirut, where he is still living today. 

On the other hand, Michael and Peter Taylor have been sentenced to serve time in a Japanese prison – 2 years for the father and 20 months for the son. Both pleaded guilty, and both have said that they regret their involvement in Ghosn’s escape. 

What's the big picture effect?

So how is it that Carlos Ghosn continues to evade the Japanese charges against him, while Michael and Peter could not? Ghosn’s safety relies on the fact that Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. The USA however, does, and it is this 40-year-old agreement that secured the fate of the American father and son. Although the Taylors fought for months to avoid extradition, in March the US Supreme Court finally handed them over to the Japanese authorities. 

This case demonstrates the strength of relations between Japan and the USA. The extradition treaty has rarely been used to pursue defendants in white-collar crime cases. However this case is of great importance to Japan, and as a result the US has complied with their demands. The Taylor case provides another opportunity for Japanese prosecutors to cast Ghosn as a scheming criminal. While the former CEO may have given them the slip, denying them the opportunity to exact the punishment they see to be fitting, the recent conviction of his assistants provides Japan with an opportunity to reassert some control in the story and serve some justice.

Report written by Elizabeth Ambrose

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