Three Found Guilty in Helping Carlos Ghosn Escape to Turkey

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Three Found Guilty in Helping Carlos Ghosn Escape to Turkey

Three Turkish nationals were found guilty Wednesday of smuggling Carlos Ghosn into Turkey after he fled Japan inside a musical-equipment box, becoming the first people convicted in connection with the former auto chieftain’s escape from Japan in late 2019.

A judge in Istanbul handed down suspended prison sentences of four years and two months and fines of 31,240 Turkish lira, equivalent to $4,352, to three men—one airline manager and two pilots who flew Mr. Ghosn from Japan to Istanbul.

Lawyers for all three men said they maintained their innocence and planned to appeal the convictions.

Two other pilots who flew Mr. Ghosn from Istanbul to Beirut and were on trial for the same charges of migrant smuggling were acquitted. One flight attendant was also acquitted. The court dropped charges against a second flight attendant.

Mr. Ghosn, a former chairman and chief executive officer of Nissan NSANY 2.24% Motor Co., had been living in a court-monitored house in Tokyo, awaiting trial on financial crimes charges, when he fled the country in December 2019. Hidden inside a box normally used to transport musical equipment, Mr. Ghosn was wheeled past security officers and passport control at an Osaka airport. He was then loaded onto a private jet and flown to Istanbul before boarding a second plane to Beirut.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ghosn declined to comment on the Wednesday ruling. He remains in Lebanon, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Japan.

All three Turkish nationals convicted Wednesday denied wrongdoing in the trial, which centered on whether personnel who operated each of the flights were aware that Mr. Ghosn was on board. Turkish prosecutors presented as evidence audio recordings from each plane used to transport Mr. Ghosn, as well as numerous text messages from the flight crew, airline manager Okan Kosemen and a Beirut-based flight broker.

Mr. Kosemen told the court he organized the flights without knowing the former Nissan chief would be on board. The pilots who were convicted— Noyan Pasin and Bahri Kutlu Sömek —testified that they also were unaware, saying it wasn’t their responsibility to check luggage contents and passenger documents.

“They kept blaming us pilots in the court for not suspecting anything,” Mr. Pasin said Wednesday after the ruling. “But when even the customs officers and police in Japan did not suspect anything, how could we have suspected?”

Lawyers for both pilots said the convictions saddled their clients with criminal records that would make it hard for them to continue in their professions.  Erem Yücel, a lawyer for Mr. Pasin, said an appeal would likely take up to 10 months.

Mr. Sömek, who alongside Mr. Pasin flew the plane carrying Mr. Ghosn from Osaka to Istanbul, told the court that if he was asked to do the flight again, “I would have done the flight exactly the same as I did back then.”

Wednesday’s convictions add to a trail of legal wreckage left by Mr. Ghosn’s escape. An American father-and-son duo have been held in a Massachusetts jail since May of last year and—barring any last-minute intervention from U.S. authorities—will be extradited to Japan to face trial for their alleged roles in arranging Mr. Ghosn’s extraction. Michael L. Taylor, a former Green Beret, and his son Peter M. Taylor haven’t denied taking part in the escape, but their lawyers have argued that their actions aren’t criminal under Japanese law.

At a press conference in Beirut in January 2020, former automotive executive Carlos Ghosn said he “fled injustice” in Japan. WSJ’s Chip Cummins discussed what Mr. Ghosn said and didn’t say, and what it revealed about possible next steps. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press (Originally published Jan. 8, 2020)

Write to Nick Kostov at Nick.Kostov@wsj.com

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Appeared in the February 25, 2021, print edition as ‘Three Men Guilty in Helping Smuggle Ghosn Into Turkey.’

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