Turkish Police Confirm Arrests in Ghosn Escape Case

 - January 6, 2020, 6:50 AM

Turkish police have arrested four pilots and another employee of MNG Jet as part of their investigation into how two of the Istanbul-based operator’s aircraft were used by indicted automotive executive Carlos Ghosn to escape from Japan to Lebanon last week. According to MNG, police have impounded the two aircraft used for flights from Osaka to Istanbul (a Bombardier Global 6000, tail number TC-TSR) and from Istanbul to Beirut (a Bombardier Challenger 300, tail number TC-RZA).

Meanwhile, on Monday morning, Japanese justice minister Masako Mori announced an investigation into how Ghosn had been able to leave the country while subject to bail restrictions and having surrendered his three passports to police. At the press conference, she further said immigration procedures are likely to be tightened at Japanese airports.

According to MNG Jet, its crew used InterAviation Japan to provide handling for the Global 6000 aircraft at Osaka Kansai International Airport. Japan’s NHK news outlet quoted unnamed aviation industry sources in reporting that two U.S. citizens were on board the flight, in addition to two Turkish pilots and a flight attendant. This report also said two large boxes designed to carry large audio equipment used by musicians were among the baggage loaded onto the aircraft, but none of these details have been officially confirmed.

On January 3, MNG said it had filed a criminal complaint against an employee who it alleged had acted alone in falsifying records for the two charter flights. In response to questions from AIN, MNG issued the following statement on Monday: “Following the filing of a criminal complaint by MNG Jet, against a former employee and against whoever cooperated on this illegal activity, the Turkish authorities have opened an official inquiry and have arrested the employee, as well as the four pilots. The two planes are being held in Istanbul by the police. The criminal investigation is ongoing. We are not authorized to comment on its developments, unfortunately. But we will keep on fighting for justice as we are a victim of this fraudulent scheme.”

Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reported on January 4 that Okan Kösemen, who it described as an operations manager with MNG Jet, was among the five people arrested by police on charges of migrant smuggling. According to this report, Kösemen has told investigators that an unnamed acquaintance from Beirut had pressured him into assisting in Ghosn’s escape. LinkedIn shows a profile for Okan Kösemen, in which he is described as MNG’s “operation and charter sales manager.”

On January 4, a Turkish interior ministry spokesman confirmed that police had detained seven people, including four pilots, two employees with an unnamed handling company, and an employee of a cargo company. The latest information from MNG suggests that the latter three may now have been released and that the arrest of a fifth MNG employee is a new development.

InterAviation Japan provides private aviation handling at five airports, including Tokyo Narita and Haneda; Kansai; Chitose; and Chubu. In a statement to AIN, the company said it had not had "any involvement with the unlawful activities." It said it provides "ground services" for aircraft operators, but does not own or manage the airport facilities used for private flights.

A spokesperson for InterAviation told AIN that the request to provide handling had not come directly from MNG, but from an unnamed "third-party trip coordinator" that it said had made the same request to several handling agents in Japan. The company said that it was able to obtain the required permit for the flight from Japanese authorities before the other handling agents.

"Aviation security checks are done by a contracted, licensed, and properly trained security company under the guidance from the airport authority, as well as the civil aviation bureau," said the statement from InterAviation. "We don't provide any security checks. Customs and immigration examine inbound and outbound passengers and their baggage, which is not the business of the handling agent."

A report by Reuters quoted an unnamed security guard at the Kansai airport private terminal reportedly used for Ghosn's flight from Japan, who commented on the process used for checking passengers. "I think I would recognize Ghosn if I took a good look at his face, but we don't really look at people's faces," he told the news agency. "It would be harder to spot him if he was wearing a disguise or was in a group."