It’s not everyday you wake up to news that a multi-billionaire CEO hid in a box and endured two flights lasting over 12 hours just to escape custody, but that is the case with ousted automotive giant Carlos Ghosn.
The exact details surrounding his escape are still a bit hazy, but some details have managed to emerge. We wouldn’t be surprised if this was the plot of the next Jason Bourne film, as the Ghosn escape similarly includes an ex-US Special Forces agent, high stakes undercover operations, and globe-trotting escapades.
So how did he do it?
According to a detailed account by Bloomberg, Ghosn’s escape plan was multi-phase, and included many moving parts that had to click at the right time and place for things to go smoothly for him. Furthermore, it involved a whole lot of planning. However, Ghosn denies his family had anything to do with it.
While AMEinfo and the press as a whole have begun to form a general idea of how the escape occurred, it is still advisable to take these accounts with a grain of salt as we wait for Ghosn to give his press conference tomorrow, where we hope he’ll reveal some of what transpired.
Basically, it all started with Ghosn leaving his home – no, a Lebanese music band doesn’t seem to have been involved as first expected. A security camera caught him exiting his home in Tokyo around noon, as reported by Japanese media.
After that, Ghosn rode a bullet train all the way to Osaka, according to Nippon Television Network, who cited people involved in the investigation. From there, he hailed a taxi which dropped him off at a hotel near Kansai airport.
From here, things get murky. It is not clear how Ghosn left the hotel and made it to the remote Kansai Airport, but it is from there that he eventually departed from Japan.
Here is where things get interesting.
A box, two war veterans, and a private jet
In traditional spy film fashion, Carlos Ghosn had accomplices waiting for him at Kansai Airport, where the private plane that would transport him had landed earlier that day. His rescuers, former US Green Beret Michael Taylor (veteran of the 2003 Iraq War) and Lebanese Civil War veteran George Antoine Zayek, had arranged everything in preparation for his arrival. Both had worked together before as private security contractors, and had experience across the world. The duo helped facilitate Ghosn’s passage out of Japan, his stop in Turkey, and his eventual landing in Beirut, Lebanon.
According to media reports, Ghosn traveled not as a passenger, but as cargo, hiding inside a large box that concealed him and allowed him to bypass airport security. That is because Japan confiscated all three of his Lebanese, French and Brazilian passports, as well as barring him from travel. Were he to be spotted at a passport check terminal, he’d be immediately flagged and arrested by security. So, cargo it was to be. According to reports, his saving grace (albeit one that was planned) was that since the box was too large to fit inside the X-ray machine, a remote scanner had to be used, which allowed him to bypass security. This particular point is still a bit sketchy, so again, take it with a grain of salt.
Ghosn had to endure an excess of 12 hours of flight time and two separate flights. While in mid-air, it is safe to assume that he would have been allowed to roam free in the cabin, free from surveillance at last.
“The team ferrying Ghosn appeared to have chosen its route carefully. From Osaka the plane headed north-northwest, avoiding South Korea—which has an extradition treaty with Japan—and then crossing into Russian airspace, where it remained for almost its entire journey,” Bloomberg said.
A Russia-exclusive journey is not the most direct route, though, but it “kept Ghosn over a country where he has considerable connections,” Bloomberg noted. “If the Japanese government demanded his plane be stopped, he might have hoped for sympathy, or at least stalling, from Moscow.”
Finally at Lebanon, he entered the country legally, since Ghosn apparently owned two French passports – also legally.
“Ghosn had two French passports—a rare privilege, granted to citizens whose employment might require them to travel while also handing over a passport for visa applications,” Bloomberg highlighted. “Ghosn had been able to keep the second one, under the condition that it remain in a plastic case secured by a combination lock for which only his lawyers had the code. According to a person familiar with it, the case wasn’t particularly sturdy, and with a hammer or drill and a bit of time it wouldn’t be difficult to crack open.”
“His French passport in hand, Ghosn crossed into Lebanon legally.”
So what’s next?
The world now waits for Ghosn’s press conference which he’ll be holding in Beirut tomorrow. Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan, as the Washington Post reminds. This means that more or less, Ghosn is safe in his home country – unless the political situation with Japan changes. The ousted CEO’s escape has left the Asian nation shocked, his defense team “dumbfounded,” and the press in a buzzing whirl.
Nissan, the prosecutors, and Japan overall will not let this stand, and they will likely chase Ghosn to the ends of the Earth in the name of justice. As for Ghosn, he sees his arrest and subsequent bail conditions differently.
“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution,” Ghosn said in a statement.
Tomorrow will prove an instrumental day in this bizarre case of corporate drama, intercontinental escapades and battle of wits that has left Hollywood taking notes for its next Bond outing.