Istanbul – An Istanbul court on Wednesday sentenced three Turks to four years and two months in prison for helping smuggle former Nissan Motor Co. boss Carlos Ghosn in a musical instrument case to Lebanon from Japan.
The court convicted two pilots and an employee of a small private airline, who moved the tycoon while he was out on bail facing financial misconduct charges in December 2019.
The sentence was lighter than the maximum 12 years the pilots — Noyan Pasin and Bahri Kutlu Somek — and MNG Jet's Okan Kosemen faced after being charged last month with involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle a migrant.
The presiding judge convicted them of "illegally smuggling foreign national Carlos Ghosn … by using a cargo plane".
The court also ordered the three to each pay a 31,240 lira ($4,330; ¥460,000) fine.
The pilots told the court on Wednesday that they were innocent because they never suspected the high-profile Japanese carmaker's boss was on board their plane.
"They ask us to fly the plane and that is what we do," Pasin said.
The three will stay out of prison pending an appeal. The court also acquitted two other pilots and two flight attendants standing trial in the Turkish case.
Interpol issued a notice last year seeking Ghosn's extradition from Lebanon to Japan. The two countries have no extradition agreement and Lebanon has failed to comply.
Ghosn, who denies any wrongdoing, has remained effectively trapped in Lebanon due to the Interpol arrest warrant.
The Turkish trial tried to piece together how Ghosn — a French-Lebanese-Brazilian national who was a global business superstar when his career came crashing to an end — managed to find his way from Japan to Lebanon via Istanbul.
The 66-year-old was arrested in November 2018 and spent 130 days in prison before completing a cinematic escape act from house arrest that humiliated Japanese justice officials and raised questions about who was involved.
The indictment said the plot involved a stopover in Istanbul instead of a direct flight "so as not to arouse suspicions."
Michael Taylor, a former member of the U.S. Special Forces, and his son Peter are accused together with Lebanese national George-Antoine Zayek of recruiting MNG Jet and overseeing the secret operation.
The two Americans lost their appeal to get their extradition to Japan blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month.
The indictment said Taylor and Zayek put Ghosn "in a large musical instrument case" and then took him through security at Japan's Osaka airport.
The plane landed at Istanbul's old Ataturk airport and parked near another plane bound for Beirut.
The court found that MNG Jet's Kosemen then jumped off the Osaka plane and boarded the one destined for Beirut together with Ghosn.
The two pilots who were acquitted completed the Turkey to Lebanon leg of the journey.
MNG Jet's Kosemen denied knowing that he was helping Ghosn flee prosecution in Japan.
"It's unfortunate I was involved in this affair. This is not something I did deliberately," Kosemen said.
Pasin said that he was surprised by the sentence because he felt that he was simply doing his job.
"I wasn't expecting this verdict," the pilot said. "There is no concrete evidence that what I did constitutes a crime."
The Turkish trial was running in parallel with a handful of hearings in Japan and the Taylors' case in the United States.
Nissan and its former bosses are accused in Tokyo of illegally concealing payments of ¥9.2 billion promised to Ghosn on retirement.
Ghosn's former aide Greg Kelly faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted over the alleged payments.
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