Apple TV+ documentary series “Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn” reconstructs the rise and fall of former Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, whose incarceration in Japan on financial misconduct charges was followed by an extraordinary escape.
Inspired by the book “Boundless” by The Wall Street Journal reporters Nick Kostov and Sean McLain, the series is directed by Emmy-winning British filmmaker James Jones (“Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes”). The four-part doc displays a wealth of materials and interviews with key players in the saga, including Mike Taylor, the former Green Beret who masterminded Ghosn’s Houdini-like escape from Japan to Lebanon, smuggled onto a private jet in a wooden container for musical instruments.
Ghosn, who is now wanted by authorities in France in addition to Japan, is living in a mansion in Beirut benefitting from the fact that Lebanon does not have extradition treaties with either country — meaning the authorities do not need to honor their arrest requests.
The high-end series is produced for Apple by London-based Box to Box and executive produced by James Gay-Rees, Paul Martin and Martin Conway, with head of video for The Wall Street Journal Amanda Wills and Daniel Rosen executive producing for The Wall Street Journal Studios.
Variety, which has been given exclusive access to the “Wanted” trailer below, spoke to Jones about the complexities of this saga and to Taylor about how he paid dearly for getting Ghosn out of Japan.
How much does your doc series advance what’s out there about Ghosn?
There was a [BBC] doc made called “The Last Flight” that was with his cooperation. So that was slightly compromised in that they couldn’t go to the dark side of Carlos Ghosn. It was basically exec produced by the Carlos Ghosn family. So it was one side of the story, which was his bad treatment by Japan and his love story with his second wife. But they couldn’t get into the dirt. And then there was a Netflix film which didn’t have access to him, so it was on the periphery of the story, really. He had no part of it.
We were given the time and space across four films to really speak to everyone involved. We got access to Ghosn and his wife who spoke very frankly with us. It’s funny, he claims he’s someone who only cares about the future, doesn’t think about the past. But he gave us access to his personal archive, which is in the top floor of his mansion in Beirut, and it’s boxes and boxes of every single newspaper article that’s ever been written about him. Every single time he’s appeared on television, VHSes dating back 30 years. So this is a man who’s obsessed with his legacy. And so that was great in that we had all the family photos, the family archive and all this great Japanese archive from the nineties and noughties.
Then of course you got access to Michael Taylor — the former Green Beret who smuggled Ghosn out of Japan — and his son, who were both extradited to the U.S. and sentenced in 2021 to two years in prison.
Yes. The timing of our series meant that we were able to talk to Mike Taylor and Peter Taylor, who pulled off the escape, and effectively ended up swapping places with Ghosn. They took huge risks to get him out, and then he was free, up to a point — stuck in Lebanon, but not in a Japanese prison — and they spent two years of their life locked away.
Back to Ghosn. Do you see him as a victim or a villain, or both?
I think one thing that became clear, speaking to people who’d been in business with him, people who had put their lives on the line for him, is that he has a certain mindset and he can only see himself as a victim. And that is just so revealing, given how many lives have been destroyed by this whole tale. It’s quite amazing that he can sit in his mansion, relatively comfortable and free, and he can only see the kind of wrong that’s been done to him. Basically realising that his reputation will never recover from these allegations, and he will be remembered as the man who escaped in the box. Not one of the all time great business people.
So I guess hopefully what our series does – it’s like a New Yorker piece or whatever – it tells the whole spectrum of the story. So we do show that, yes, that there is a Japanese conspiracy. We do show that the Japanese justice system is outrageous and designed, effectively, to torture people into confessing. The sad truth is that they decided to take him down [to stop his planned merger of Nissan and Renault]. But in that process, they did then uncover actual corruption. He can deny that as much as he likes, but it doesn’t look good if you’re writing checks for the company and then receiving similar amounts of money back in very convoluted ways. It’s just old-fashioned corruption.
Ghosn now also faces charges in France. Could this piece shake things up from a judiciary standpoint?
I think the tricky thing is, he’s not going to leave Lebanon. He said for a long time: “Oh, if I could face trial in France or somewhere else, I would go in a heartbeat. It’s just Japan that’s corrupt.” And then the French charge him and he still won’t go. And he’s saying: “Oh, it’s because the Lebanese have my passport.” No. He’s no fool, and I think he thinks it’s better to live his life out peacefully in Lebanon. His kids can come visit there. He’s got his house. He’s got his yacht. I can’t imagine he will risk leaving the country ever again and I think the series highlights both the flaws of the Japanese system, but then also make it clear that he has got a case to answer.
How did you get access to Ghosn, who presumably knew he would not come out smelling like roses?
I think partly out of vanity and partly from a correct belief that he would be able to make his own case better than anyone else. And as I said earlier, he is very obsessed with his legacy and I don’t think he liked the Netflix film particularly. I think he had a sense he probably wouldn’t like it, and he didn’t take part in that one, obviously. So I think he saw this one as a chance to set things out, and he understood that we were doing it properly. We were speaking to all the right people, we were going into detail. So I think he trusted us on that level. In the end, he hasn’t seen the series. I don’t know what he’ll think, but I think inevitably there will be things he doesn’t like in it because it is critical at certain points.
Simply put, do you feel wronged by Carlos Ghosn?
Well, I’m not going to comment on details, but if you help somebody in life and it ends up costing you money out of pocket, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you and your son spend years in jail — how would the average person feel about that?
How do you think you should you be compensated for what you’ve gone through? Not just monetarily, but in terms of recognition?
Historically, I’ve never wanted a recognition. I didn’t want recognition in this. My name got leaked. That’s how I was exposed. The operation itself was meticulously planned. There were no errors whatsoever. And operationally, I carried it out and it ran perfectly. It’s after the fact that my name was leaked. Intentionally or unintentionally, it was leaked by others. And that’s one thing that I never wanted. I did not want to be known, because then you can’t help anybody else. And I’ve done a lot of helping other people, and it’s not a money thing. That’s what people don’t seem to understand. Just because he is a businessman, they think I was getting paid tens of millions of dollars. That’s simply not the case, and that wasn’t the motivation at the beginning. In fact, money for service was never discussed prior to me pulling Ghosn out.
Were you surprised that the U.S. allowed you and your son to be extradited to Japan in 2021?
Yeah, I was very surprised, and I’ll tell you why I was surprised. No. 1, because [Donald] Trump is always beating his chest, as was Mike Pompeo, about protecting veterans and first responders and protecting Americans. And that’s the President of the United States’ number one responsibility: to protect the citizens of its nation. My son and I get extradited by Trump for allegedly aiding and abetting somebody to jump bail, when jumping bail in Japan is not a crime. So yeah, I did feel betrayed, and I was betrayed, frankly, by Trump.
Why do you think Trump did that?
We believe we know why, but I would love to see some investigative journalists take that on.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. “Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn” premieres on Aug. 25 on Apple TV+.