ISTANBUL: Pilot Noyan Pasin (center) and his lawyer Erem Yucel (right) speak to media in front of the Bakirkoy courthouse in Istanbul, yesterday after a verdict trial against four pilots, two flight attendants and a private airline official accused of smuggling former Nissan Motor Co chairman Carlos Ghosn out of Japan. - AFP

ISTANBUL: An Istanbul court yesterday sentenced three Turks to four years and two months in prison for helping smuggle former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn in a musical instrument case from Lebanon to Japan. The court jailed two pilots and an employee of a small private airline who moved the former auto industry giant while he was out on bail facing financial misconduct charges in December 2019.

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 yesterday 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 trial tried to piece together how Ghosn-a French-Lebanese-Brazilian national who was a global business superstar when his career came crashing to an end-managed to find his way from Japan to Lebanon via Istanbul. 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". 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. - AFP