Seven suspects went on trial in Turkey on Friday because of their alleged involvement in former Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon via Istanbul at the end of 2019.
The ousted chairman of the alliance of Renault, Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors had been awaiting his trial under house arrest in Japan when he escaped in December to Lebanon.
An executive from Turkish private jet operator MNG Jet and four pilots were arrested in January right after Ghosn’s escape and charged with migrant smuggling, a sentence carrying a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.
They appeared in white protective overalls, masks, and gloves due to coronavirus, as the court in Istanbul started hearing their defence. Two flight attendants, charged with failing to report a criminal charge – a charge carrying a sentence of up to one year – were also there.
The first defendant who spoke was a pilot on the Osaka-Istanbul flight, Noyan Pasin, who rejected the charge.
Prosecutors, in their indictment, had stated that MNG Jet operations manager Okan Kosemen – who is one of the seven on trial – was aware before the Osaka flight that Ghosn would be on board and would shift to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.
Kosemen, who also pleaded not guilty, stated in court on Friday he was only told through the phone about Ghosn’s presence mid-flight from Osaka and cooperated under duress.
The prosecution said Kosemen used WhatsApp to connect with pilots before, during, and after the Osaka-Istanbul flight, using terms like “luggage” and “consignment” to mention Ghosn.
The five other suspects also reject the charges, the indictment shows.
Kosemen informed prosecutors a price of $175,000 was agreed for the flight with a Lebanese broker and was paid into MNG Jet’s bank account, according to the indictment.
At the time of the occurrence, MNG Jet said Kosemen acted without the understanding of the company and it had submitted a criminal complaint about the illegal use of its aircraft.
Japan has officially asked the United States to extradite two Americans – a former Green Beret and his son – who are also alleged of helping Ghosn flee Japan. They were arrested in Massachusetts this year.
The Ghosn scenario has rocked the global auto industry, at one point jeopardizing the Renault-Nissan alliance which he created, and increased scrutiny of Japan’s judicial system over his arrest.