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Suspects in Ghosn's Japanese escape stand trial in Turkey

Fri 3rd July, 2020 11:47am
* Ghosn fled Japan while awaiting trial
    * Five defendants accused of migrant smuggling
    * Suspects appear in court in protective overalls

    By Ezgi Erkoyun
    ISTANBUL, July 3 (Reuters) - Seven suspects went on trial in
Turkey on Friday over their alleged involvement in former Nissan
 7201.T  boss Carlos Ghosn's dramatic escape from Japan to
Lebanon via Istanbul at the end of last year.
    Ghosn, once a titan of the global auto industry, had been
arrested in Japan in late 2018 and charged with underreporting
his salary and using company funds for personal purposes,
charges he denies.
    The ousted chairman of the alliance of Renault  RENA.PA ,
Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motors Corp  7211.T  had been
awaiting his trial under house arrest in Japan when he made a
dramatic escape in December to Beirut, his childhood home. 
    An executive from Turkish private jet operator MNG Jet and
four pilots were detained in early January soon after Ghosn's
escape and charged with migrant smuggling, a sentence carrying a
maximum sentence of eight years in jail.
    They appeared in white protective overalls, masks and gloves
as a measure against the coronavirus, as the court in Istanbul
began hearing their defence. Two flight attendants, charged with
failing to report a crime - a charge carrying a sentence of up
to one year - were also there.
    The first defendant to speak was a pilot on the
Osaka-Istanbul flight, Noyan Pasin, who denied the charge.
    Prosecutors, in their indictment, had said MNG Jet
operations manager Okan Kosemen - who is one of the seven on
trial - knew before the Osaka flight that Ghosn would be on
board and would transfer to Beirut. 
    Kosemen, who also pleaded not guilty, said in court on
Friday he was only told via phone about Ghosn's presence
mid-flight from Osaka and cooperated under duress. 
    The prosecution said Kosemen used WhatsApp to communicate
with pilots before, during and after the Osaka-Istanbul flight,
using terms like "luggage" and "consignment" to refer to Ghosn.
    The five other suspects also deny the charges, according to
the indictment.
    
    SAGA SHAKES AUTO WORLD
    According to the indictment, Kosemen told prosecutors a
price of $175,000 was agreed for the flight with a Lebanese
broker and paid into MNG Jet's bank account. 
    At the time of the incident, MNG Jet said Kosemen acted
without the knowledge of the company and it had filed a criminal
complaint for the illegal use of its aircraft.
    Japan has formally asked the United States to extradite two
Americans - a former Green Beret and his son - who also stand
accused of helping Ghosn flee Japan. They were arrested in
Massachusetts in May.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL1N2E92AK
    The Ghosn saga has shaken the global auto industry, at one
point jeopardising the Renault-Nissan alliance which he
masterminded, and increased scrutiny of Japan's judicial system.
    Renault and Nissan have struggled to recover profitability
following his tenure, during which both automakers say Ghosn
focused too much on expanding sales and market share, leading to
falling margins. 
    Turkish police detained the suspects on Jan. 2 and an
interior ministry official was cited at the time as saying
Turkish border police were not notified about Ghosn's arrival,
and neither his entry nor his exit were registered.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL8N2970V2

 (Additional reporting by Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo; Writing by
Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Pravin Char)
 ((daren.butler@tr.com; +90-212-350 7053; Reuters Messaging:
daren.butler.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))
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