British ex-serviceman and Dubai cargo group add to Ghosn puzzle
Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan has drawn in another ex-military figure after it emerged that a Dubai-based company made a payment to the private jet operator that whisked the former Nissan boss from Osaka to Istanbul.
The Financial Times has learnt that a $175,000 invoice for the jet was paid by Al-Nitaq al-Akhdhar for General Trade Limited.
The company is linked to Mike Douglas, a former British serviceman, who his peers say made a fortune in postwar Iraq by providing aviation and fuel services. The slogan of his main company is: “Successfully doing difficult jobs in difficult places.”
Mr Douglas’s experience as a contractor to the US military in Iraq is shared by Mike Taylor and George Zayek, the two private security contractors who accompanied Mr Ghosn on his journey out of Japan.
The apparent involvement of the Dubai company is another piece in the puzzle of Mr Ghosn’s audacious escape — which cost him an estimated $20m in expenses and forfeited bail money — and is believed to have involved him boarding a plane concealed in a large black audio equipment box.
The FT has a newly surfaced photo of the box, apparently covered in the white powder used by police to extract fingerprints, which was left in a hangar in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport after Mr Ghosn switched to a second, smaller plane.*
Mr Douglas said that his firms “have [cargo] business with MNG” — a reference to the Turkish conglomerate whose holdings include a cargo company as well as the private jet service that supplied two planes that carried Mr Ghosn to Beirut. But he denied involvement in the former auto executive’s escape.
“Any payment we’ve made was for other logistics, cargo business, but we didn’t charter any aircraft,” he said. “If anyone charters an aircraft you sign a charter agreement. And we haven’t chartered any aircraft so we’re not involved in it.”
The charter agreement was signed by someone using the first name “Ross” and an illegible surname. The space for the company’s name is left blank.
But the invoice, which included a reference to the tail code of the same private jet used in Mr Ghosn’s escape, was addressed to the Dubai-based Al-Nitaq al-Akhdhar, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Asked if he was denying all involvement in Mr Ghosn’s escape from Japan, Mr Douglas replied: “That’s correct.”
Al-Nitaq al-Akhdhar made an initial $175,000 payment to MNG Jet, the Turkish charter firm that supplied two planes used in the escape plan, on December 26 — two days before the plane departed from Dubai to Japan prior to the escape attempt. A further sum of $175,000 that is owed to MNG Jet has yet to be paid, according to two people familiar with the agreement.
Mr Douglas added: “We didn’t pay for it. We haven’t paid for any charter. So as far as I’m concerned we’re not involved.”
Pressed with the claim that Al-Nitaq al-Akhdhar made the payment for Mr Ghosn’s flight, Mr Douglas said that it appeared the firm had been “used and abused”.
MNG Jet blames a rogue employee for agreeing the escape contract with the businessman’s accomplices and last week filed a criminal complaint that led to his arrest by Turkish police.
Mr Douglas is the CEO and president of SKA International, a specialist aviation and logistics firm based in Dubai. He is one of many buccaneering entrepreneurs that have used the regional commercial hub of Dubai as a launch pad for business operations in troubled areas of the Middle East and Africa.
SKA’s operations in Iraq, according to its website, have included operating jetties and fuel-storage facilities in Khor al-Zubair port near Basra and air fuel services at the Kurdish airports of Erbil and Sulimaniyah. Oil company BP has been a business partner in Iraq.
SKA has since expanded into Uganda and Somalia, where it was the first foreign company to manage Mogadishu’s international airport and launched the war-ravaged country’s first Toyota dealership.
“Mike is a very successful businessman, who survived and thrived with an aviation business but in reality was also making lots of money in fuel trading,” said a fellow expatriate business operator in Iraq. “He gets close to clients and solves problems for them.”
Japanese media attempted to provide another piece of the puzzle on Monday, reporting that Mr Ghosn travelled from central Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train.
The reports, carried by Nippon Television and TV Asahi, claimed that after walking out of his rented house the former Nissan chairman boarded the bullet train at about 4.30pm at Tokyo’s Shinagawa station, a vast railway hub about 6km from where he had been under house arrest since April 2019 on charges of financial misconduct.
If confirmed, Mr Ghosn’s use of Japan’s famous high-speed train would fill a big gap in the account of his escape. But it would raise new questions about how he was able to avoid attention riding on public transport.
Mr Ghosn reportedly left the bullet train at Shin-Osaka station more than two hours later, at which point he travelled to a hotel by taxi. He fled on December 29 — one of the busiest days of the year for rail, road and air travel as hundreds of thousands of Japanese criss-cross the country to visit family for the extended new year holidays.
Previous accounts of the escape, given to the Financial Times, suggested that he left Japan from the private jet terminal of Kansai International Airport near Osaka at just after 11pm on December 29 on a flight that took him to Istanbul.
Additional reporting by Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki in Tokyo and Chloe Cornish in Beirut
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*This article has been amended to reflect that the photograph has been published by more than one news organisation