Taylor had once run American International Security Corporation, a private military contractor specializing in risk assessment—and in spiriting people out of complex situations. Over two decades, he had established a reputation in certain circles for dramatic recovery missions conducted all over the world. Most were unofficial referrals from the FBI or the State Department—a young girl abducted by her Lebanese father amid a custody dispute, or a teenager who had gotten into a car accident over spring break in Costa Rica and was facing jail timeWhen the auto king fled house arrest, he captivated the world. Now, the guy who helped him is in jail—and never got paid a dime.www.vanityfair.com
EXCLUSIVE: HOW CARLOS GHOSN ESCAPED JAPAN, ACCORDING TO THE EX-GREEN BERET WHO SNUCK HIM OUT
When the auto king fled house arrest, he captivated the world. Now, the guy who helped him is in jail—and never got paid a dime.
BY MAY JEONG
JULY 23, 2020
A KING’S RANSOM!
Prior to evading legal troubles, Carlos Ghosn and his wife, Carole, enjoyed such on-the-nose activities as a Marie Antoinette–themed party at Versailles.BY LAURENT CAMPUS.
In the spring of last year, a former Green Beret named Michael Taylor was in between jobs when he received a call from an old friend.
“Hey, we got a guy,” said the friend, a Lebanese businessman. “He’s close to us. He’s getting railroaded over in Japan. Is there something you can help us with?” Ali, the pseudonym Taylor gave him, wouldn’t provide any more specifics, not even a name.
“It’s possible,” Taylor told his friend. But he would need a lot more information.
The call wasn’t that unusual. Taylor had once run American International Security Corporation, a private military contractor specializing in risk assessment—and in spiriting people out of complex situations. Over two decades, he had established a reputation in certain circles for dramatic recovery missions conducted all over the world. Most were unofficial referrals from the FBI or the State Department—a young girl abducted by her Lebanese father amid a custody dispute, or a teenager who had gotten into a car accident over spring break in Costa Rica and was facing jail time. During his career, he has completed nearly two dozen such operations, charging clients anywhere from $20,000 to $2 million per job. The missions, some of which took years to plan and execute, earned Taylor the nickname Captain America. He lived in a binary world populated by, as he saw it, patriots or traitors, “our guy” or the “bad guy.” True to superhero style, the tales Taylor recounts from this career are outsize, epic, including the escape of Carlos Ghosn.
“THIS ISN’T SOMETHING WE’VE SEEN ON TV,” TAYLOR TOLD HIS FRIEND. “THIS ISN’T HOLLYWOOD.”
Back in 2004, while providing security for U.S. investigators in Baghdad building war crimes cases against Saddam Hussein, Taylor had been introduced to a Lebanese businessman named Ali, the friend of a friend. Ali had hit on the idea of selling insurance in wartime Iraq—automobile, business, life—and needed an escort. Taylor mobilized a caravan of Chevy Suburbans, picked Ali up once he had landed, raced him along the Baghdad Airport Road—arguably the most dangerous seven miles of highway in the world at the time—and dropped him off behind the fortified blast walls and concrete barricades of the Green Zone.
Now, calling from Beirut, Ali piled on the questions. How would the operation work? How much would it cost? Taylor told Ali he didn’t know. Sneaking someone out of Japan, a populated, tightly run island nation, not a failing state—he hadn’t done that before. “This isn’t something we’ve seen on TV,” Taylor told him. “This isn’t Hollywood.”
Taylor decided to do some research. It didn’t take him long to figure out the man in question. The next day, Taylor called Ali back: Was it Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan, under house arrest in Tokyo? Ali confirmed.
“This is going to be a major event,” Taylor remembers telling him.
If Taylor, now 59, had known that saying yes would result in his arrest, the arrest of his son Peter, and the possibility of their own extradition to Japan—in a headline-news case involving the Tokyo prosecutor’s office, the U.S. State Department, the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Marshals Service’s Special Operations Group, the Massachusetts federal court, a Mississippi senator, and the White House—he may not have picked up the phone, never mind recounted the escape for this magazine.
The rich are not accustomed to having their freedom curtailed. International mobility is among the primary markers of privilege. As the jet-setting chairman of three car companies—Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Renault—Carlos Ghosn (the Arabic pronunciation is “guh-sun”) had homes in Rio, Beirut, Paris, and Amsterdam. Now, after being in Japanese custody for four months, his world had been reduced to his house in Tokyo, where he was awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement. Three surveillance cameras were affixed to his front door, and two of his passports—Brazilian and Lebanese—had been taken from him, locked away at his attorney’s office. Violating the terms of his house arrest would cost him $9 million in bail money.
Ghosn stood accused of a staggering range of financial crimes, including underreporting $80 million in earnings over an eight-year period, shifting more than $16 million in personal losses onto company books, and using an elaborate chain of shell companies to bill Nissan for his lavish lifestyle. His mansion in Beirut, according to Nissan, had been purchased and renovated with nearly $15 million in company funds. Ghosn meanwhile insisted that the charges against him were part of a corporate “plot,” aided by Japanese authorities, to oust him from Nissan. (“The only comment I will make is that Mr. Ghosn has been claiming from the moment he was arrested that he is innocent of all the charges brought against him” was how a spokesperson, Leslie Jung-Isenwater, responded to a list of questions from Vanity Fair.)
Ghosn’s friends back in Lebanon were worried about him. Confined to his house day after day, allowed out only to lunch at the nearby Grand Hyatt or to visit his lawyer, he began to despair. The case against him, he learned, could take years to work its way through the Japanese courts, meaning he might remain under house arrest indefinitely. I might die here, one friend recalls him saying. His hope was almost out—he was barely eating and had stopped exercising—when he received a call from Ali, who knew Ghosn’s wife, Carole. Ali told Ghosn about a guy he used to know in Baghdad who specialized in recovery missions. Would Ghosn be interested?
By all means.
ON THE RUN
Michael Taylor (foreground), a U.S. citizen, and George Zayek, a Lebanese citizen, assisted Ghosn in his escape from Japan.FROM ISTANBUL POLICE DEPARTMENT/DHA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES.
Ali connected Taylor with Carole, whom Ghosn, now 66, had married in 2016. That year, the couple had thrown an extravagant Marie Antoinette-themed party at Versailles, complete with vintage wine from their private vineyard, a four-foot pyramid of pâte à choux, and costumed actors in powdered pompadour wigs. “We wanted it to feel as if we were inviting guests into our home,” Carole told Town & Country. “Nothing too studied.”
Taylor flew to Beirut, where he met Carole at a mansion in the historic Achrafieh neighborhood. They spoke for hours. Carole told Taylor that Ghosn had been treated “like a POW.” During her husband’s detention, she told Taylor, the lights in his tiny cell had been kept on 24/7, and he was allowed out for only half an hour each day. He was subjected to interrogations that lasted as long as eight hours and didn’t have a bed. (His jailers had provided him with a straw tatami mat, customary bedding in Japan.) The charges against him, she told Taylor, were “bogus,” brought by Japanese officials who wanted to prevent Ghosn from engineering a closer merger with Renault, the French automaker. “They don’t like foreigners,” Carole said of the Japanese.
Taylor flew home to Massachusetts feeling equal parts skeptical and intrigued. Later, he was shocked by what he read about Japan’s criminal-justice system, which a United Nations committee on torture has denounced as “medieval.” Suspects are often denied access to lawyers, and can be imprisoned and questioned for lengthy periods without being charged, a system known as “hostage justice.” Japan, a country that has low crime rates, nevertheless has a conviction rate of 99.4 percent—higher than North Korea. Taylor came to believe that Ghosn was a victim. “I felt he was a hostage,” Taylor says. “He was being tortured. Then I had empathy for the guy.”
Taylor himself had felt wronged by the criminal-justice system, and not just once in his life. In 1984, while he was working in Beirut after leaving the Special Forces, a woman accused him of raping her, resulting in a criminal charge and an arrest. The charge was dropped after colleagues testified that Taylor had been abroad at the time of the alleged assault.
In 1998, while working as a private investigator, Taylor pled guilty to planting drugs in a woman’s car. He doesn’t deny that it happened but claims he took the fall for one of his employees, who planted the drugs in order to help Taylor’s client wrest custody of his children from their “irresponsible mother.” Then came the crucible. In 2007, an old friend from his Special Forces days who was working in Afghanistan invited Taylor to apply for a Pentagon contract to train the Afghan soldiers that were fighting the Taliban. Taylor, by then running his own security company, submitted the winning bid: $54 million over five years.
One day in 2012, two months after the Afghanistan contract ended, Taylor was on a mission for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Three billion dollars in gold bars that had once belonged to Muammar Qaddafi, the former Libyan dictator, were being sold off to Hezbollah. Taylor was tasked with intercepting the gold bars at sea, en route to Syria. Before he could complete the mission, however, he was summoned home and charged with procurement fraud, among other charges.
According to federal prosecutors, Taylor had received privileged information about the Pentagon contract from his former Special Forces buddy, whom Taylor had allegedly rewarded with kickbacks. Deemed a flight risk, Taylor was denied bail and spent 14 months in a state prison in Utah awaiting trial. Running out of money and unable to pay his lawyer, he decided to plead guilty to two of the charges. He served nearly 19 months.
The experience left Taylor with a deep mistrust of government. “I was forced to plead guilty and swear under oath that I did something I didn’t do,” he says. “I don’t think I got a fair shake, and it changed my whole life. It destroyed a business I worked for for 17 years.”
Taylor saw Ghosn’s plight through the prism of his own experience in Utah: a wronged man imperiled by an unjust system, confined, hopeless, ruined. Not long after Taylor returned home from meeting with Carole Ghosn in Beirut, he called Ali.
I’ll do it.
In many ways, Taylor was uniquely suited for the Ghosn mission. His tenure in the Special Forces, one of the most elite and unconventional branches of the U.S. military, familiarized him with Lebanon, and he had strong ties to the country and its people. He had cultivated an extensive network of former operatives who specialized in everything from munitions to transportation. Getting Ghosn out of Japan seemed a far-fetched task, but Taylor felt he had a “hundred percent” chance of pulling it off, he told me. “I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I didn’t think it was hundred percent.”
During my meetings with Taylor in rural Massachusetts, he told me the story of his life without yielding to emotion. Even the more moving events, like the time he met his wife, are relayed as if reading from an Army field manual. He does not recall how he felt, but he does recall that the textile merchant who introduced him to his wife drove a Chevy Impala. The only time he displays feelings is when he speaks about his mother. The memory of her, and how she had suffered as a single woman raising three children below the poverty line, moves him to tears.
Taylor was born Michael Anderson in Arizona in 1960. His father, who was half Cherokee, left the family not long after, and Michael’s mother, Betty, who was also half Cherokee, gave him her maiden name: Gemrose. He grew up in a cinder block hut with plywood for a roof and slept on a cot next to his brother and sister. His mother worked as a cocktail waitress at a local bar, where she met Robert Taylor, a military intelligence officer who wooed her with his Sunbeam Fastback. They soon married, and Taylor formally adopted the Gemrose children before moving the family to Ethiopia.
Michael Taylor went from living in abject poverty to experiencing the might of the American military at the height of the Vietnam War. “We got basketball, a swimming pool, baseball,” he recalls. “It was like, wow, this is paradise.” When the family moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Taylor became cocaptain of the high school football team and was voted Most Likely to Succeed. He would spend six hours a day at the weight room on base, where he met Special Forces soldiers who got him thinking about a career not just in the military, but in its most prestigious ranks.
At the time, the Army was running an experiment, recruiting minors to Special Forces straight from high school. The program didn’t last long because of a high attrition rate. But in 1978, Taylor was among its 169 recruits. According to him, by the time they graduated from the Special Forces qualification course, only three men remained: John Carl, who now works in the Los Angeles Police Department; Gary Gordon, who died in the downed Black Hawk helicopter in Somalia in 1993; and Taylor.
Taylor joined the 10th Special Forces Group in Europe, where he was trained to perform high-altitude parachute jumps, free-falling five miles before releasing his parachute just 2,000 feet from the ground. He served as a demolitions expert on a secret team assembled to deploy portable nuclear devices in the event of a Soviet invasion. In 1982, his unit was the first to be deployed to Lebanon during the civil war there. Taylor studied Arabic, developed extensive ties, and met his wife. The couple settled in Massachusetts, where Taylor adjusted to life as a suburban dad.
Not long after he set up shop as a private military contractor, a federal task force hired him to go undercover to infiltrate a Lebanese crime ring. Taylor discovered that the group, working out of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, was behind a global drug-smuggling operation. Thanks in part to his work, U.S. authorities were able to impound $100 million of hashish that was shipped to Boston in blue plastic olive barrels—at the time, the largest drug seizure in history. Taylor was paid $335,000 for his work, mostly in hundred-dollar bills.
In 1997, Taylor was standing on top of the George Washington Bridge, conducting a risk assessment for the Port Authority, when an FBI agent who had heard about the drug bust called about an American woman needing help. Her ex-husband had kidnapped their daughter and fled to Lebanon. The FBI couldn’t do anything because the United States did not have diplomatic relations with Lebanon at the time. Taylor retrieved the girl, and the mission was featured in a high-profile spot on 20/20. More requests for “rescues” came in. “I would get a phone call. Hey, I got your number, I can’t tell you where,” Taylor recalls. “Five minutes before, I would have had a call from the FBI saying: Heads up.”
Then came the War on Terror, which proved to be a boon for men like Taylor. By the height of the war in Iraq, Taylor had nearly 2,000 employees, most of them former members of Special Forces or the intelligence community. He spent much of the year in Iraq and Afghanistan but returned home each fall to coach football at Lawrence Academy, a boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts. “I would go over when it wasn’t football season, come back for football season, then go back,” he recalls. Even on the field, Taylor courted controversy: The school was sanctioned for making improper payments to student athletes, stripped of two titles, and banned from postseason play for three years. Taylor chalks it up to his team’s overwhelming superiority on the field.
TAYLOR, WHO HAD BEEN TRAINED TO OPERATE OFF THE BOOKS, WAS NOW LIVING IN A BY-THE-BOOK WORLD.
After Taylor pleaded guilty to rigging the Afghanistan contract, the life he had built came crashing down. He was forced to close his company. The referrals from the FBI and State dried up. Taylor, trained to operate off the books, was now living in a by-the-book world. Recalling an idea he’d had years earlier, he decided to start his own brand of sugar-free vitamin water as an alternative to sweetened sports drinks. He named it Vitamin 1 and started selling it at local grocery stores. Captain America was reduced to peddling electrolytes.
That’s when the call from Ali came through. Taylor didn’t agree to the Ghosn job because he missed the thrill, he claims—he’d had enough thrills to last him a thousand lifetimes. It was a sense of public service, of being guided by a mission.
Ali let Ghosn know the plan was a go. Buoyed by the news, Ghosn began eating again and started working out three times a week, preparing for his future as an international fugitive. Taylor called his attorney and other legal experts and asked whether helping someone in Japan jump bail would violate any U.S. laws. Assured that it wouldn’t, he set out to determine how he might keep his word.
Taylor knew from Carole that Ghosn wasn’t required to wear an ankle monitor, and that he had been permitted to keep his French passport. But in addition to the surveillance cameras over his doorway, Ghosn was also being monitored by two plainclothes detectives hired by Nissan.
There are only two ways out of Japan: by air or by sea. Escaping by sea requires sailing down the coast of Japan and crossing 2,600 miles of open water to Thailand, where Ghosn would still need to get on a plane to return to Lebanon. The journey would take two to three weeks, which struck Taylor as a risky undertaking for a man of Ghosn’s age and constitution. That left the sky. Ghosn, who was a household name in Japan, couldn’t fly commercial, so Taylor would need a private jet.
Taylor knew from experience that the biggest enemies on any rescue mission are the captives themselves, and their families. “Once they know you are going to help them,” he says, “they start telling you how to do things.” First Ghosn insisted on going by boat. Then he wanted to fly out of Tokyo. Then he demanded he leave immediately. There was “constant tension,” according to Taylor, and it took enormous discipline to remain committed to his original vision.
Throughout that fall, Taylor assembled a team of operatives with varying talents: maritime operations, airport security, IT, police, countersurveillance. It was like casting a heist movie, each man indispensable for his skill set. Most were ex-Special Forces, guys Taylor had known for 40 years or more. They had spent their lives operating in a world where people were contacts, groups of people were cells, and information was intelligence. Those who hadn’t met in the military had crossed paths in their civilian lives—skydiving at the local airstrip or moonlighting as coaches on the high school football field. The men had been trained to be fighters, and now that the War on Terror was ostensibly over, there was nothing left to fight for. Taylor’s cobbled-together ranks embodied a central Marxist concept—the reserve army of labor—and Taylor was in a position to put them to work.
The first call Taylor made was to a military officer in the Middle East who had retired into the business of gem appraisal. He would be Taylor’s deputy. Taylor also called a man he had been in combat with in Iraq who now provided private security. That man, well connected in Asia, assembled dossiers on everyone involved in the operation: Ghosn, his colleagues, his wife, the managers of every airport terminal that might provide an avenue of escape.
And then: the jet. Taylor needed to find a charter company that wouldn’t ask too many questions. His men began calling outfits all over the world, feeling them out. Could they handle a passenger who required a high level of discretion? Could the transaction remain off the books? Every place they called failed the test. Then they heard about a Turkish company rumored to have flown gold out of Venezuela in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Look, Taylor’s men explained, we gotta pull out a VIP who does not want to be noticed. They don’t want to be on the manifest.
We are used to doing this, came the reply. What do you need?
With the flight option secured, Taylor got to thinking about how he could smuggle a person across international borders undetected. “Eventually,” he says, “you get to a box.”
The box would have to be big enough to contain Ghosn and heavy enough to account for his weight. Taylor had one of his men measure the door to the cargo hold on the charter plane. Then he had a staging company in Beirut build two black plywood boxes with reinforced corners—the kind used to store and transport loudspeakers. He stipulated that the boxes be a centimeter narrower than the cargo door on the jet, so they could be loaded without issue. He had casters affixed for easy maneuvering and holes drilled in the bottom so Ghosn could breathe. Ghosn weighed 165 pounds. He would be taking the place of subwoofers in one of the boxes, and those weigh about 110 pounds. Close enough, Taylor thought.
BOX OF MAGIC
The case in which former CEO Ghosn hid when fleeing to Lebanon.FROM ISTANBUL POLICE DEPARTMENT/HANDOUT/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES.
Finally, there was the question of timing. Taylor wanted to get Ghosn out in time for Christmas. But by the time all the preparations were in place, the jet wasn’t available. Then, when the jet was free again, Ghosn had to attend a court hearing. A few days before Christmas, Taylor was on the tarmac at an airport in the Middle East, ready to depart for Japan, when he learned that the pilots had not been fully briefed. He called off the operation minutes before the flight was set to take off. Taylor had meanwhile learned that the surveillance cameras at Ghosn’s apartment were kept on at all times, but it wasn’t a live feed; the footage was only collected once a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. If Ghosn could be evacuated on a Thursday or a Friday, the authorities might not realize he was missing until the following week.
On Tuesday, December 24, Ghosn was granted a one-hour phone call with Carole. On Christmas Day, Ghosn attended a pretrial hearing. Thursday came and went. Then, around midnight on Friday, a call came through on the unregistered cell phone that had been smuggled to him. It was Taylor. He said simply, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Saturday morning, Taylor arrived at Dubai International Airport. With him was George Zayek, a former member of the Lebanese militia who advertised himself as an expert in “war, weapons, and hostile lands.” The jet was delayed—the client before them was running late—and the Bombardier Global Express didn’t lift off until 10:16 a.m., 90 minutes behind schedule, destined for Kansai International Airport, in Osaka. Taylor’s team had studied five airports near Tokyo, and Kansai International had revealed a crucial flaw—the terminal did not have scanners big enough to accommodate cargo the size of, say, a subwoofer.
Only one of the two Turkish pilots had been briefed on the mission. Taylor ran through the master plan throughout the flight. “It’s always a big deal when you are saving someone’s life, or the future of their life,” he says. “But from an operational perspective, this one didn’t get me any more jacked up than others.”
The jet landed in Osaka at 10:30 a.m. local time on December 29. Taylor knew from his research that airport security would be nearing the end of their long shifts and thus less alert. The two speaker boxes were loaded into the back of a waiting van, which dropped Taylor and Zayek off at the Star Gate Hotel near the airport. There, they changed into warmer clothes and boarded a bullet train to Tokyo.
On the train, Taylor’s phone began an unexpected automatic software update. “The first thing I thought was, I wonder if the NSA knows,” he recalls. “I wouldn’t put anything past them.” The update meant that Taylor wouldn’t be able to access any of the apps he needed to be in contact with other members of the team while the mission was under way.
Meanwhile in Tokyo, Ghosn left his house at 2:30 in the afternoon, wearing a toque and the surgical mask that was common across Asia long before COVID-19. He walked the half mile to the Grand Hyatt. The hotel had been selected for its many egresses, and for the fact that Ghosn frequented it for lunches. Going there wouldn’t be a deviation from his ordinary routine.
This crucial juncture is where accounts—Taylor’s to me; the prosecutors’ to the court—deviate. In Taylor’s telling, Ghosn stood by a pillar in the lobby near the exit and waited, as per earlier instructions. Before long, a man, Taylor, approached him. They shook hands. “It’s time to go home,” Taylor told Ghosn.
But according to court documents that were filed later in Massachusetts federal court, Ghosn headed upstairs instead. There, in room 933, which had been booked under Taylor’s son Peter’s name, Ghosn changed into a new set of clothes. An hour later, Taylor and Zayek arrived, and the narrative converges again.
Ghosn, Taylor, and Zayek left the Grand Hyatt and around 4:30 p.m. boarded the high-speed train from Tokyo. The cars were packed, with passengers standing in the aisles, and the three men rode in silence. Arriving in Osaka a little after 8 p.m., they returned to the hotel, where Taylor plugged in his phone so it could finish updating and headed to the airport alone.
Taylor explained to the terminal manager that his party was running late. They would need to rush through security, he said, so they could take off on schedule for an important meeting in Istanbul. He handed the manager an envelope which contained the equivalent of $10,000 in Japanese yen. When she insisted that the tip was too large, he took out half and gave the rest back. Then Taylor returned to the hotel, where he took the speaker out of the larger of the two boxes and placed it in the smaller box to make room for Ghosn, who climbed in. Taylor shut the lid and secured the latch.
A little before 10 p.m., Taylor and Zayek wheeled the boxes into two waiting vans and headed for the airport. The drivers and airport staff had been on duty since that morning. None of them suspected anything, but Taylor would have been ready with a cover story: He and his friend had attended a violin concert in Osaka, and he had the tickets to prove it. In fact, Taylor had prepared cover stories for every day that December. He had also worked out what he would do if a customs official opened the boxes, or if Ghosn panicked. (He declined to share those contingencies, saying they would have involved illegal activities.)
Taylor arrived only 20 minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off, at 10:30 p.m. He helped the baggage handlers unload the two boxes, explaining that they contained sensitive equipment and needed to be moved with care. Elite travelers already live in a world without borders; Taylor and Zayek were rushed through security. “Nothing got x-rayed, not even our backpacks,” Taylor recalls.
On the tarmac, workers pushed the smaller box containing the speakers onto a conveyor belt to the cargo hold. Then they picked up the second box, with Ghosn inside, and pushed it up the same belt. One of the workers handed Taylor the money he had paid the manager, explaining that it was against the company’s policy to accept tips. Once the aircraft doors were shut, Taylor went back to the cargo hold. He cracked open the box and told Ghosn that he would get him when they were airborne. He grabbed a towel from the bathroom and used it to keep the lid ajar.
IT WASN’T UNTIL THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY THAT JAPANESE AUTHORITIES REALIZED THAT GHOSN WAS GONE—BY READING ABOUT IT IN THE LEBANESE MEDIA.
At 11:10 p.m. the flight took off. Taylor and Zayek had been in Japan for 13 hours. When Taylor returned to check on Ghosn, the fugitive executive was sitting cross-legged atop the box, beaming. The plane made its way west, staying in Chinese or Russian airspace at Taylor’s request to avoid the risk of refueling in a country, such as South Korea, that has an extradition treaty with Japan.
The charter company had informed the flight attendant that the VIP guests wanted privacy on the flight back, so she stayed in the galley and never entered the main cabin. Ghosn ate before going to bed. Taylor sat in a chair next to him while he slept.
The plane landed in Istanbul at 5:26 a.m. on December 30. Ghosn was whisked to a second plane waiting a hundred yards away, destined for Beirut. Taylor was focused on completing the job, and there were no thank-yous or goodbyes. Taylor and Zayek then took a taxi to the commercial airport to catch a commercial flight, also headed to Beirut.
By the time Taylor landed in Beirut, the news of Ghosn’s escape had already broken in the local press. But it wasn’t until the following Tuesday that Japanese authorities realized that Ghosn was gone—by reading about it in the Lebanese media. One of the world’s most famous prisoners was now an international fugitive.
Ghosn was greeted with a hero’s welcome in Lebanon, where he met with President Michel Aoun and other dignitaries. He claimed to have organized his own escape and held a press conference in which he denounced Japan for subjecting him to “injustice and political persecution.” He likened his experience to Pearl Harbor. Japan issued a warrant for the arrest of both Ghosn and his wife, who is accused of perjury, for lying about her contact with a witness. Interpol issued a “red notice” for Ghosn, asking law enforcement worldwide to locate and arrest him, pending extradition to Japan.
Taylor had a quieter homecoming—at first. In Lebanon, he slept for the first time in three days. Later that week, he went to the gym. Afterward, he went out to a nearby restaurant for a quick dinner. He was helping himself at the salad bar when he heard the sound of clapping. He looked around. Everyone in the restaurant was on their feet, applauding. He wondered if someone was having a birthday party. Then the entire restaurant began chanting—Bataar! Bataar! Hero! Hero! “Your dinner is free from us tonight,” the maître d’ told him. “We are proud you brought him home.”
Soon, the rumors began. Ghosn’s escape, it was said, had been engineered by a former security guard of French president Emmanuel Macron. Taylor didn’t mind someone else taking credit for the mission. Though his name had been linked in the media to Ghosn’s escape, his public stance was to not comment.
As Taylor was going from superhero for hire back to suburban dad, the Japanese authorities were planning a grand gesture of their own. On January 30, the Tokyo District Court issued a warrant for Taylor’s arrest, and soon thereafter, Japan formally asked the United States to arrest Taylor. The request came through diplomatic channels, first arriving at the State Department before it was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which passed it on to the U.S. Marshals Service.
And so it was, in late May, that Taylor was asleep in his home in Harvard, Massachusetts, when his 27-year-old son, Peter, shook him awake. Peter had been the first to hear the knock and answered the door. Fifteen U.S. marshals were standing there; they did not want trouble, they explained, but they had come to pick up Taylor and his son.
Four days later, Taylor called me from the Norfolk County jail in Dedham, Massachusetts. The first few days, he sounded upset, mostly at his own government for “chaining you up like you are Charlie Manson.”
“We are going to go based on what the Japs said, even though it’s wrong? We are going to take you out of your house in the middle of the night, early in the morning, and rip up the Constitution?”
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a 10-person team is lobbying for Taylor’s release. The lineup includes Abbe Lowell, who was the chief counsel for the House Democrats during the Clinton impeachment and who has represented Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on the Russia inquiry. They have received a call from Mississippi senator Roger Wicker, wanting to know how he could help. As Nissan CEO, Ghosn had built an assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, in 2003, and the senator must not have forgotten this. (Wicker declined to comment.) The White House general counsel has also checked in, asking to be kept apprised.
“Indeed, the very offense for which Michael Taylor is charged in Japan demonstrates his aptitude for hatching escape plans on a grand scale and his blatant disrespect for bond conditions,” the prosecutors’ statement read. “The plot to spirit Ghosn out of Japan was one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history, involving a dizzying array of hotel meetups, bullet train travel, fake personas, and the chartering of a private jet.” Even beyond the particularities of the Taylor case, bail is seldom granted in extradition cases, which are neither civil nor criminal.
Paul Kelly, Taylor’s lead lawyer, and Dan Marino, a former Marine who defended Taylor in the Utah case, are building their defense on article 103 of the Japanese penal code, which lists the punishment for harboring or enabling the escape of a person in confinement but says nothing of aiding and abetting an individual out on bail. In most countries, including Japan as well as the United States, violating bail terms is a misdemeanor or an administrative violation, in which one forfeits the bail money but does not face an additional charge.
Rumors have placed the cost of the Ghosn operation at $30 million. In fact, Taylor says, it cost Ghosn around $1.3 million. (Court documents show that Ghosn wired nearly $1 million in expenses to a company connected to the Taylors.) Most of that went toward the jet charter and paying the team. How much did Taylor make for his role in planning and orchestrating Ghosn’s escape?
Nothing, he tells me.
Taylor says that Ghosn, whose personal wealth has been estimated at $120 million, has not offered to compensate him. Taylor had assumed a kind of gentleman’s agreement when it came to payment, as is common in his world. Smuggling a fugitive out of Japan, after all, isn’t exactly the kind of job for which you draw up a contract.
“If I did it for the money,” he says, “that money would have been paid in advance.”
If not for the money, I ask, why do it?
De oppresso liber, he answers, quoting the motto of the Special Forces.
He was liberating the oppressed.
Not sure if he was involved in this:Taylor had once run American International Security Corporation, a private military contractor specializing in risk assessment—and in spiriting people out of complex situations. Over two decades, he had established a reputation in certain circles for dramatic recovery missions conducted all over the world. Most were unofficial referrals from the FBI or the State Department—a young girl abducted by her Lebanese father amid a custody dispute, or a teenager who had gotten into a car accident over spring break in Costa Rica and was facing jail time
Where when did this happen?
This failed, so I don’t think it is this one. Also this one has two kids, not a girl only.Not sure if he was involved in this:
My little Lahela and Noah were taken 6 months ago. They were terrifyingly kidnapped by my ex-husband and I haven't heard from them. This man stole my kids quietly and will face no punishment. I'm scared every second - they were taken to the middle east (Lebanon) and I still don't know if...www.oroom.org