The two American men accused of helping former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn escape prosecution in Tokyo won an eleventh-hour reprieve in their battle to avoid extradition to Japan.
Just minutes before defense lawyers feared Michael Taylor and his son Peter would be placed on a flight to Tokyo, a U.S. judge on Thursday delayed the transfer to allow more time to consider their last-ditch petition to block the extradition.
In a court filing, the Taylors said they were notified after 5 p.m. Wednesday that the State Department had approved Japan’s request for extradition. Their lawyers said they believed the two men were set to be transferred on a 1 p.m. flight Thursday from Logan International Airport, which wouldn’t allow enough "opportunity to receive and review the administrative record and to seek judicial review of the Secretary’s decision.”
In a paragraph-long order, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston said the U.S. should "ensure that petitioners are not transported out of the district” for the time being.
Still, the delay may not last long. A different federal judge ruled in September that Japan’s extradition request was legitimate. And in their court filing, the Taylors’ lawyers included a letter from an official at the State Department saying that the deputy secretary of state had formally authorized the surrender of the two men to the Japanese authorities.
"I confirm that the decision to surrender the Taylors to Japan complies with applicable international obligations as well as domestic statutes and regulations,” the State Department official, Karen K. Johnson, said in the letter.
Smuggled in box
Japanese and American officials say the Taylors orchestrated the dramatic escape by putting Ghosn inside a large box and smuggling him onto a private plane. At the time, Ghosn was out on bail awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct. He remains a fugitive in Lebanon.
The Justice Department and the State Department declined to comment.
The Taylors have never denied that they were involved in Ghosn’s escape. Indeed, Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, gave an extensive interview to Vanity Fair magazine describing how he planned the operation. But after the Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts, they argued in federal court that their alleged offense didn’t actually break the law in Japan.
In a statement Thursday, lawyers for the Taylors said they would continue to fight Japan’s extradition request.
"We are actively seeking review and reconsideration of the decision to authorize surrender of our clients to Japan both within the State Department and at the White House,” the lawyers said. "This distinguished former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and his son did not commit any crime and are being pursued by Japan in an effort to save face after the departure of Carlos Ghosn from their country.”
Last month, U.S. Magistrate Donald Cabell in Boston authorized the Japanese extradition request, ruling that it was not the role of an American court to parse the nuances of a foreign penal code. "The prevailing view is that the extradition court should defer to the foreign country’s interpretation of its own laws,” Cabell said.
After losing in court, the Taylors attempted to persuade the State Department to block the extradition.
They spent at least $130,000 on a team of seven lobbyists at the Washington law firm K&L Gates who urged members of Congress and officials at the White House and State Department to intervene in the case, arguing that the Taylors would be treated unfairly in Japan, according to disclosure forms filed in July and people familiar with their activities.
In September, representatives for the Taylors made a final plea to officials in the State Department and the White House, emphasizing Michael Taylor’s military career and his history as a private security consultant who rescued kidnapped children in the Middle East.
The Taylors enlisted a number of high-profile Washington lawyers. The letter from the State Department was addressed to Abbe Lowell, who has represented Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Ty Cobb, a former White House lawyer for President Donald Trump. Lowell defended the Taylors in court throughout the extradition process, but Cobb’s involvement was not previously known.
One of the U.S. lawmakers the Taylors lobbied, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, tweeted on Thursday that he was "outraged” that the State Department had approved the extradition request. "The former Special Forces member and his son will not be treated fairly,” he said.
Still, the lobbying was always a long-shot. Any extradition request that goes before a judge has already been vetted by officials in the State Department and the Justice Department who have determined it complies with the U.S. treaty.
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