By Ezgi Erkoyun
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish pilot accused of aiding Carlos Ghosn in his dramatic escape from Japan said on Thursday he did not know the former Nissan executive was on the plane, as the case against him and several other employees of a Turkish jet company resumed.
Ghosn, once a leading light of the global car industry, was 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, Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motors Corp had been awaiting his trial under house arrest in Japan when he escaped in December last year 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 soon after Ghosn’s escape and charged with migrant smuggling, a charge carrying a maximum sentence of eight years in jail. They were released in July, when the first hearing was held.
Noyan Pasin, one of the pilots on the flight from Osaka to Istanbul, said before the hearing on Thursday that he learned that Ghosn was on the plane from news reports after the flight.
He said he executed the flight as requested by the company, and had no chance to intervene at any point in the process of Ghosn’s escape.
“Even if we wanted to, there is no possibility for us to intervene because the local authority has full control. We had nothing to do with the escape, we only carried out the flight,” he told Reuters.
At Thursday’s hearing, the court rejected a request by the pilots to lift a travel ban against them. They had told the court the measure prevented them from carrying out their job.
It set the next hearing for Jan. 20, 2021.
All defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
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.
(Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)