An executive from Turkish private jet operator MNG Jet and four pilots were detained by Turkish authorities in early January 2020 and charged with migrant smuggling. Two pilots have been acquitted.

Security members stand guard in front of the Bakirkoy courthouse after a verdict trial against four pilots, two flight attendants and a private airline official accused of smuggling former Nissan Motor Co chairperson Carlos Ghosn out of Japan, Istanbul, Turkey, February 24, 2021.
Security members stand guard in front of the Bakirkoy courthouse after a verdict trial against four pilots, two flight attendants and a private airline official accused of smuggling former Nissan Motor Co chairperson Carlos Ghosn out of Japan, Istanbul, Turkey, February 24, 2021. (AFP)

A Turkish court has convicted an executive of Turkish jet company MNG and two pilots over their role in flying former Nissan Motor Co Ltd Chairman Carlos Ghosn out of Japan during his escape to Lebanon just over a year ago.

The court sentenced them to four years and two months on charges of migrant smuggling. It acquitted two other pilots of the same charge.

The pilots, Noyan Pasin and Bahri Kutlu Somek, and MNG Jet employee Okan Kosemen had faced a maximum 12 years in prison when charged last month with involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle a migrant.

The pilots told the court on Wednesday that they were innocent because they never suspected that Ghosn was on board their plane.

"They ask us to fly the plane and that is what we do," Pasin said.

The 66-year-old fugitive was arrested in November 2018 and spent 130 days in prison before completing an audacious escape act that humiliated Japanese justice officials and raised questions about who was involved.

The indictment said the escape plan involved a stopover in Istanbul instead of a direct flight "so as not to arouse suspicions."

READ MORE: Nissan ex-chair Ghosn describes Japan arrest as a plot

Via Istanbul to Beirut

Ghosn, once a leading light of the global car industry, was arrested in Japan and charged with underreporting his salary and using company funds for personal purposes, charges he denies.

The ousted chairperson of the alliance of Renault, Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motors Corp had been awaiting his trial under house arrest in Japan when he escaped in December 2019 via Istanbul to Beirut, his childhood home.

An executive from Turkish private jet operator MNG Jet and four pilots were detained by Turkish authorities in early January 2020 and charged with migrant smuggling.

The defendants were released in July, when the first hearing was held, and are not expected to return to jail due to time they served.

All defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Former US Green Beret member Michael Taylor and his son Peter are accused of recruiting MNG Jet and overseeing the secret operation.

The two Americans lost their appeal to get their extradition to Japan blocked by the US Supreme Court earlier this month.

The indictment says 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 disembarked the Osaka plane and boarded the one destined for Beirut together with Ghosn.

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.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies