Former Green Beret Michael Taylor knew how to rescue people in bad situations. Especially in foreign countries. He was the go-to for recovery missions of high profile and monied clients. Abductions, jail sentences, that sort of thing. The more complex jobs netted him over $2 million. Taylor was known as Captain America. Here’s how he helped ex-Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn escape Japanese jail.
Taylor was the perfect person not only for his expertise, but because he had a Lebonese friend he helped once get through Baghdad in 2004. This was during the time Taylor oversaw security for US investigators there. He was also an alum of the elite US Special Forces. A federal task force once hired him to infiltrate a Lebanese crime syndicate. He studied Arabic and knew the lay of the land in the Middle East.
When his friend “Ali” called him about the Ghosn situation he offered to help. To him it wasn’t about the thrill but about providing a public service. He felt Ghosn was being held as a hostage.
This type of escape had never been performed by Taylor before. It was in a populated, tightly secure, and robust nation. The escapes he had organized were mostly in failing state situations. Ghosn was under house arrest in a small apartment in Tokyo. He had been there four month while he awaited various embezzlement and financial crimes brought against him by the Japanese government. It was a far cry from his international routines and residences in Rio, Beirut, Paris, and Amsterdam.
Two plainclothes detectives were assigned courtesy of Nissan
Surveillance cameras were everywhere and both of his passports were in the custody of his Japanese attorney. Two plainclothes detectives were assigned courtesy of Nissan. Should anything happen he would forfeit $9 million in bail. The Japanese government was slow in processing and then setting up trials. It could take years and years for it to wind its way through the system. The thought of that brought on depression. Ghosn had stopped exercising and was barely eating.
“Hostage Justice” is how Japan handled these types of affairs. A person can be imprisoned, interrogated for hours on end, have food withheld, and kept in a cell with the lights on 24/7. Its conviction rate was almost 100%. When Taylor heard about all of this he knew he had to do it.
Taylor told Vanity Fair, who he gave his exclusive story, that he only took on the project because he was 100% sure of success. He met with Ghosn’s wife in Beirut, and after getting her approval started digging into the escape plans. He was advised that there were no US laws governing helping someone jump bail in a foreign country, so he felt if successful nothing could come from it once back in the US.
Two things Ghosn had going for him was that he did not have an ankle monitor and he was allowed to keep his French passport. But he was well known and recognizable to most people in Japan from all of the media attention there. Another lucky bit of information was that the surveillance company only collected the video from the surveillance cameras early each week. Always between Monday through Wednesday. So, a Thursday or Friday would be the opportune time.
Taylor assembled a host of specialists
With many circumstances and logistics controlling the caper, Taylor assembled a host of specialists. Experts in maritime operations, airport security, IT, police, and countersurveillance, to name but a few. Most were almost lifelong friends of Taylor’s.
They all agreed Ghosn would have to be flown out of Japan. They contacted many airline outfits quizzing them about certain aspects of what they were going to pull off but none could be trusted. Then they contacted a Turkish company that had flown certain missions violating US sanctions. They would be the perfect accomplices; few questions were asked.
As the pieces came together Taylor needed to figure how he could hide Ghosn. That’s when the idea of holding him in some type of box surfaced. Two special boxes were assembled that looked like those used to transport loudspeakers. With casters for easy maneuverability and holes drilled out of sight for Ghosn to breathe, they were one step closer. Subwoofers weigh about 110 lbs. Ghosn weight 165 lbs. It was close enough.
With Christmas closing in everyone thought this was the time to perform the escape. On Christmas day Ghosn attended a pretrial hearing. Two days later he was informed on an unregistered cell phone that Saturday was escape day.
Taylor arrived at Dubai International Airport with George Zayek, a former member of the Lebanese militia. Arriving in Osaka at the end of airport security’s long shifts the timing was good. Two speaker boxes accompanied them to Tokyo in a van. Meanwhile, Ghosn walked to the Grand Hyatt where he ate lunch every day. He was wearing a toque and surgical mask, common in Tokyo at the time.
Then he handed her an envelope with $10,000 Japanese yen
When Taylor, Ghosn, and Zayek met up at the hotel there are varying recounts of what happened based on what Taylor says versus court documents. The bottom line is that the three left the Grand Hyatt boarding a train from Tokyo to Osaka. At the Osaka airport, Taylor told the terminal manager his party was running late and they would need to speed up security procedures to make the plane’s scheduled landing in Istanbul. Then he handed her an envelope with $10,000 Japanese yen.
The switch of the speaker for Ghosn had already happened. Ghosn was inside of the box with the latch locked. The baggage handlers moved the “sensitive equipment” boxes with care while Taylor and Zayek were rushed through security without any X-ray of their luggage. The two boxes, with the larger holding Ghosn were loaded onto the conveyor. At 11:10 PM the airplane lifted off.
The flight remained in Chinese and Russian airspace to avoid having to refuel in any country with an extradition treaty with Japan. At this point they were free to walk inside of the plane. Eventually Ghosn slept while Taylor guarded him just in case.
Soon, Japan issued a warrant for the arrest of Ghosn and his wife
Once in Istanbul Ghosn was quickly placed in a smaller plane headed for Beirut. Taylor and Zayek boarded a commercial flight also to Beirut. The Japanese authorities discovered Ghosn was gone after reading about the escape in the Lebanese media. While they read, Ghosn was meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and other dignitaries. Soon, Japan issued a warrant for the arrest of Ghosn and his wife.
After a couple of days of sleep in Lebanon, Taylor went to the gym and then for some dinner. While ordering he was met with clapping. Everyone in the restaurant was on their feet chanting Bataar! Bataar! Hero! Hero! The maitre d’ said his dinner was free.
A month later the Tokyo District Court issued a warrant for Taylor’s arrest. But it wasn’t until late May that he was arrested by US Marshals and sent to Norfolk County Jail in Dedham, Massachusetts. A 10-person team in Washington DC is lobbying for his release.
The cost of this escapade is estimated to have been $30 million. Taylor disputes that figure, claiming Ghosn was charged $1.3 million. He says he received nothing for his efforts. Also, he says it is not the kind of project you can draw up a contract for. He says, “If I had done it for the money it would have been paid in advance.”