The recently revealed indictment against Turkish airline company MNG Jet for its involvement in former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon via İstanbul did not reveal the real culprits behind the plan while charging several employees with offenses that carry lighter sentences if convicted.
The İstanbul Bakırköy 17th Penal Court of Peace accepted the indictment naming MNG Jet’s operations director, Okan Kösemen, four pilots and two flight attendants for their alleged roles in Ghosn’s escape.
However, the indictment does not reveal how an official operated two MNG jets without the approval of the company’s top managers and carried out such an illegal operation in a highly secured airport. Rather than investigating such allegations and going after the real culprits, it seems that Kösemen and other company employees are being made scapegoats in the scandal that rattled Japan, while the masterminds behind the operation are protected by Turkish prosecutors.
Two ground services employees, identified only by the initials F.K. and İ.M.H., were released after a brief detention in January 2020 and spared from any accusations in the indictment for their alleged role in the escape.
The indictment submitted by the Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office accused Kösemen, pilots Bahri Kutlu Sömek, Noyan Pasin, Özgü Bilge Bayram and Serhat Kahvecioğlu and two flight attendants of helping Ghosn escape from Osaka to Beirut on December 30, 2019. Their trial is set to begin on July 3, 2020. The indictment states that Ghosn is believed to have been smuggled inside a musical instrument box large enough to carry a person 1.7 meters tall.
According to the indictment, MNG Jet executive Kösemen played a significant role by using two MNG planes illegally for the smuggling operation. It notes a €216,000 and $66,000 increase in Kösemen’s bank accounts between October 16 and December 26, 2019, and that he accompanied Ghosn during the İstanbul-Beirut flight. in his initial statement Kösemen claimed he was threatened with the lives of his family by a man from Lebanon if he did not go through with the plan.
MNG Jet’s General Manager Can Şaşmaz was not indicted in the case even though he is the top executive of the airline company. He denied having any knowledge and said one employee of the company altered the flight records and did not declare the passenger’s name in the flight manifest. The airline’s parent company MNG Holding’s CEO Mehmet Nazif Günal, a close associate of the Turkish president, was also spared from the investigation.
Faruk Bayındır, the former owner of private airline company Tarkim Aviation, described the accusations against the pilots and other employees as a “an attempt at coverup in a panic.” He said it is impossible for the owners and operators of aircraft not to have known of such an international plan to bring a fugitive businessman to Turkey from Japan and have him moved to Lebanon. He said he had spent years in the aviation business in Turkey and that no one could pull off such an operation without an order from influential people within the Turkish government.
It is quite interesting that Ghosn’s escape plane reportedly also ferried gold for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Bloomberg News reported on January 3, 2020 that two planes operated by MNG Holding, suspected in assisting the former auto executive Ghosn’s escape, also helped with a gold trade between the heavily embargoed Venezuelan government and İstanbul.
The Turkish prosecutor has sought up to eight years in prison for each of the four pilots and Kösemen on charges of illegally smuggling a migrant. The two flight attendants, Nesrin A. and Serpil K., face a a year in prison for failing to report a crime. However, Nesrin A. was well aware of the fact that they were conducting an illegal operation. According to the indictment, Nesrin A. called her friend Özgür Kaplan on December 30, 2019 and told him that “they are carrying a secret passenger along with Kösemen.” Despite such an important detail, she will not face a charge of illegally smuggling a migrant, the indictment revealed.
Turkish police found that Noyan Pasin, pilot of the jet flying Ghosn from Osaka to Istanbul, kept Kösemen advised during the flight. Ghosn was moved to another MNG plane at İstanbul Airport and was accompanied by Kösemen during the İstanbul-Beirut leg.
Ghosn was arrested by Japanese authorities in November 2018 on charges of financial misconduct. Japanese prosecutors believe he funneled millions of dollars from his former company for his own personal use and deceived shareholders about the size of his salary. Ghosn had been kept under close police surveillance in Japan since being released on more than €8 million bail in April 2019.
Turkish police detained the suspects on January 2, 2020. A government official said at the time that Turkey was not notified about Ghosn’s arrival nor his departure from the country. MNG Jet, owned by MNG Holding, has two of its aircraft had been used illegally, and it filed a criminal complaint against its own employees over the illegal use of its jet charter services.
Although the planes were not owned by MNG, they are operated by the company. The Bombardier Global Express plane with tail number TC-TSR that took Ghosn from Japan to Istanbul on December 29 is owned by Tarkan Ser. The plane landed at Istanbul Airport at 05:26 hours. The second plane, a Bombardier Challenger 300 with tail number TC-RZA, which took off at 06:00 hours, is owned by the Turkish government’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF).
Like President Erdoğan, the founder of MNG Holding, Mehmet Nazif Günal, has close links to Lebanon and the Hariri family. In 2007 BankMed, owned by the Hariri family and Arab Bank purchased 91 percent of MNG Bank’s shares. Günal retained 9 percent of the shares in the bank, which was renamed Turkland Bank (T-Bank). Günal earned $160 million from the sale.
Günal’s name also came up during a banking crisis in the 1990s that led to the collapse of the then-center-right government. He was close to then-Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz and mafia figures at the time. In one of the wiretaps of a conversation with Turkish businessman Korkmaz Yiğit, a suspect who had invested in several industries including banking and media, he was talking about known mafia leader Alaattin Çakıcı. Günal described Çakıcı as his “friend.”
Voice recording between the pilot of the Beirut-bound Bombardier Challenger 300 with tail number TC-RZA and the air control tower in Istanbul on December 30, 2019: