TOKYO (Reuters) -U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son Peter told a Tokyo court on Tuesday that they regretted helping former Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan, where he faced trial for alleged financial crimes.
Flanked by guards, the two men, who were brought into court handcuffed, bowed deeply to the three judges who will decide their sentence, and asked to be allowed to return to the United States to see family.
“I deeply regret my actions and sincerely apologise for causing difficulties for the judicial system and for the Japanese people,” the older Taylor said in a quavering voice.
He replied yes when the prosecutor asked whether he believed Ghosn should have stayed in Japan.
“I’ve spent more than 400 days in jail and had a lot of time to reflect. I take all responsibility and deeply regret my actions,” his son Peter said to the judges.
The two men pleaded guilty this month to charges that in December 2019 they had illegally helped Ghosn escape from Kansai airport in western Japan, hidden in a box aboard a private jet to Lebanon.
Extradited to Japan from the United States in March, they are being detained at the same jail in Tokyo where Ghosn was held, and face up to three years in prison.
Prosecutors said the Taylors received $1.3 million for their services and another $500,000 for legal fees.
The elder Taylor on Tuesday said a cousin of Ghosn, who is his wife’s sister-in-law and Peter’s godmother, helped persuade him to take the job.
He added that he felt sympathy for Ghosn and his wife Carole after they told him Ghosn could be held in Japan for up to 15 years.
The couple, he said, told him jumping bail in Japan was not a crime.
His son said he had met Ghosn three times in Tokyo in 2019 before the latter fled, but the two had not specifically discussed the escape plan. He had “felt used” by Ghosn, he told the court.
The Taylors’ lawyers in the United States waged a months-long battle against their extradition, arguing that they could not be prosecuted for helping someone jump bail and could face relentless interrogation and torture.
Suspects in Japan are interrogated without their lawyers present and are often denied bail before trial.
Asked by prosecutors if he had been treated badly in Japan, Taylor said the prosecutor who questioned him after his arrest was “respectable and honourable”.
At the time of his escape, Ghosn was awaiting trial on charges that he understated his compensation in automaker Nissan’s financial statements by 9.3 billion yen ($84 million) over a decade and enriched himself at his employer’s expense through payments to car dealerships.
Ghosn, who denies wrongdoing, is a fugitive in his childhood home of Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.
Greg Kelly, a former Nissan executive charged with helping Ghosn hide his compensation, is also standing trial in Tokyo. He also denies the charges.
The Taylors next appear in court on Friday.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)