Carlos Ghosn left Japan with US hostage extraction expert

Carlos Ghosn left Japan with US hostage extraction expert
Carlos Ghosn left Japan with US hostage extraction expert

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Carlos Ghosn shared his secretive escape flight from Japan with a pair of Americans who have backgrounds in the private security business. One was a former Green Beret who has extensive experience in extracting hostages but also went to jail for fraud.

The manifest of the getaway flight from Osaka to Istanbul does not list Mr Ghosn, but it includes two passengers named Michael Taylor and George-Antoine Zayek.

For Mr Taylor, the episode was the latest in a colourful career that began as a US Army Special Forces paratrooper before he worked undercover for law enforcement and built a security firm that pursued contracts around the world.

Mr Ghosn flew on from Istanbul to Lebanon, where he is a citizen. The country has no extradition treaty with Japan, where he was out on bail while awaiting trial for financial fraud.

Details of how the former Nissan Motor boss escaped are scant. It is unclear how he came into contact with Mr Taylor and Mr Zayek, or if they are the only ones who aided his escape. But the three men share close ties to Lebanon, where Mr Ghosn spent much of his childhood.

Mr Ghosn, 65, and the two Americans are believed to have left Japan on December 29 aboard a charter jet operated by Turkey’s MNG Holding. The New York Times reported that Mr Taylor and Mr Ghosn were introduced by Lebanese intermediaries months ago.

‘Snatch and grab’

The details of Mr Taylor’s life are detailed in court documents, news reports, books and the website for his Boston-area company, American International Security. At one point, he was hired by The New York Times to work in a high-profile hostage case.

After reporter David Rohde was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008, Mr Taylor told Rohde’s wife, Kristen Mulvihill, that he could stage a rescue without ransom, as he said he had done in previous cases.

“Snatch and grab,” Mr Taylor said, according to Ms Mulvihill, who wrote a book about the kidnapping with her husband. Rohde later escaped without help.

Mr Taylor, 59, was born in Staten Island, New York, and adopted by a stepfather who was a career soldier. After graduating from high school in Massachusetts, he served four years in a Special Forces unit, parachuting into hot spots from as high as 40,000 feet.

He first went to Beirut in 1982, after the assassination of the Lebanese president-elect and the Israeli invasion. He helped train Lebanese combat forces and began a “lifelong relationship with the Christian community in Lebanon”, according to a sentencing memorandum in federal court in Utah, where he pleaded guilty more than six years ago. He met his wife, Lamia, and married her in 1985, before moving back to suburban Boston, and raising three sons.

Mr Taylor, who learned Arabic and developed contacts throughout Lebanon and the Middle East, lent his skills to US law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

He served as a reservist for a decade and was activated for the Gulf War in 1991 but was unable to deploy. He was working at the time as an undercover operative in a US investigation of hashish trafficking and money laundering in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, according to the memo.

The operation ended with the seizure of three tonnes of hashish in 1991.

Personal protection

Mr Taylor then returned to Lebanon as a private contractor who trained Lebanese Christian forces. In 1992, he helped US officials investigate a group suspected of making high-quality counterfeit $100 bills. He determined that these “supernotes” were “being created by a group of Iranians who had worked for the Shah prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979”, according to the memo.

Mr Taylor has worked for the US government and private clients such as ABC, Delta Airlines and Disney on Ice. His firm has offered personal protection, employing former military personnel, former policemen and retired secret service agents. Its website says “there is a professional available for emergencies, while also providing a strong presence to deter any potential stalking, attack, theft or crime committed during the detail”.

As an experienced secret operative, Mr Taylor was apparently well versed in the art of sharing information on a need-to-know basis. Contacted by phone on Friday, his wife, Lamia, said she did not know whether her husband participated in Mr Ghosn’s escape.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. Asked whether her husband could come to the phone or return a call, she said he was not available. “He’s out of the country,” she said.

Less is known about Mr Zayek, who worked with Mr Taylor’s firm, according to online profiles and filings, as well as at least one other security company. He is from a family of Lebanese Maronite Christians.

Locked up

Mr Taylor’s firm secured $54 million (Dh198m) in Pentagon contracts, for work including training special forces in Afghanistan, court records show. In 2010, he and his firm became the subject of a grand jury investigation in Utah for contract fraud and money laundering. He was arrested in 2012 and eventually pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 24 months in prison.

After having $5m in company assets seized, Mr Taylor received $2m back from authorities as well as a tax refund. He started rebuilding his business. His work has included rescuing children in spousal kidnappings. Now he has added the former Nissan executive whose supporters believe he was the victim of a Japanese judicial system stacked against defendants.

Updated: January 5, 2020 02:56 PM

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