ISTANBUL — A manager at Turkish jet operator MNG Jet has told authorities that he assisted unwittingly in the escape of ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn from Japan because he had been threatened by a former acquaintance, Hurriyet newspaper reported on Saturday.
Turkish authorities have arrested five suspects, including MNG Jet operations manager Okan Kosemen, on charges of migrant smuggling as part of an investigation into Ghosn’s transit through Turkey en route to Lebanon.
Hurriyet said Kosemen told authorities that a former acquaintance from Beirut had asked him for assistance on what he called a matter of “international significance” and had told him that his family would be harmed if he refused.
The paper did not name the acquaintance who allegedly made the threat.
“I was scared. I took a man from one jet and put him into the other one at the airport. I did not know who he was,” Hurriyet quoted Kosemen as saying in his statement to authorities.
Reuters could not immediately verify the statement.
Officials from MNG Jet and the prosecutor’s office were not immediately available for comment.
A lawyer for Koseman has said he will not make any statement about the issue at the moment.
The private jet operator said on Friday that Ghosn used two of its planes illegally in his escape from Japan, with an employee falsifying lease records to exclude his name from the documents.
It is unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan.
MNG Jet said it leased two jets to two different clients in agreements that “were seemingly not connected to each other.” One plane flew from Osaka to Istanbul, the other from Istanbul to Beirut. “The name of Mr Ghosn did not appear in the official documentation of any of the flights,” it said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Ghosn slipped out of Japan aboard a private jet hidden in a large black case typically used to carry audio gear. He was accompanied by a pair of men with names matching those of American security contractors, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with Turkey’s probe into the escape.
Some Lebanese media, in reports similar to the Wall Street Journal, have floated a Houdini-like account of Ghosn being packed in a wooden container for musical instruments after a private concert in his home, but his wife has called the account “fiction.”
Turkish interior ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli told reporters on Friday that Ghosn was believed to have been transferred through the cargo section of the airport in Istanbul, but did not provide further details.
Ghosn has become an international fugitive after he revealed on Tuesday he had fled to Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged” justice system in Japan, where he faces charges relating to alleged financial crimes.