Feb
13

Briton to be extradited within 10 days over alleged arms exports to Iran

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European court of human rights rejects last-ditch plea by businessman Christopher Tappin, who claims he was entrapped

A retired British businessman is to be extradited to the US within 10 days after failing in his latest attempt to block the move, his lawyer has said.

A last-ditch plea by Christopher Tappin to the European court of human rights to block extradition has been rejected, his lawyer, Karen Todner, said on Monday.

US authorities want to put him on trial accused of conspiring to sell components for Iranian missiles.

The 64-year-old, from Orpington, Kent, denies unlawfully attempting to export batteries for Hawk air defence missiles and says he was the victim of entrapment in a “sting” organised by US government agents.

His long legal battle through the UK courts to block his removal ended in failure last month when high court judges Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cranston refused to allow him to take his case to the supreme court.

Refusing permission, Mr Justice Cranston said time would now begin to run out for his removal to the US.

An application to the human rights judges for “Rule 39″ relief to stop Tappin’s removal pending a further hearing of his case in Europe was made, but has now been rejected by the Strasbourg-based court.

Todner said: “The European court of human rights has confirmed that they will not grant Rule 39 relief to Mr Tappin. Therefore his extradition to America will take place within the next 10 days.

“We truly hope that the UK government will see this case as an example of the gross injustice to British citizens by the UK/USA extradition treaty and, as they declared in opposition, they will now act quickly to make the necessary amendments.”

An independent review of the UK’s extradition arrangements by Sir Scott Baker last year found that the current treaty between the US and the UK was both balanced and fair. But critics claim it is one-sided and the latest development will increase pressure on the government to ignore the review’s findings and attempt to change the UK-US extradition treaty.

It comes ahead of a meeting between David Cameron and Barack Obama at the White House next month.

Last month, the high court judges rejected Tappin’s challenge to a decision by district judge John Zani at City of Westminster magistrates court last February that extradition could go ahead.

They said the entrapment argument was “unsustainable” and extradition would not be “oppressive” or a breach of human rights.

The judges also ruled that the charges which the president of the all-Kent Golf Club Union faced were “extraditable offences”, and they had to accept the extradition request was made “in good faith”.

Tappin, a former director of Surrey-based Brooklands International Freight Services, said he had become trapped in a “nightmare” and believed he was exporting batteries for the car industry in the Netherlands.

Mr Justice Cranston said the allegation against Tappin, in broad outline, was that he had participated in the conspiracy with another UK citizen, Robert Gibson, who operated an export business in Cyprus, and American citizen Robert Caldwell. Others involved have not been named.

An investigation was launched by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), using a shell company, Mercury Global Enterprises, staffed by agents pretending to be members of the business.

In 2007 an Ice agent charged Tappin and the other alleged conspirators with criminal offences.

After his arrest, Gibson agreed – without Tappin knowing – to co-operate with the US authorities and told them he was buying the technology and the Hawk batteries for a long-time Iranian customer in Tehran.

Gibson pleaded guilty in a Texas court and was given a two-year jail sentence in February 2007.

A jury convicted Caldwell in June 2007 of aiding and abetting the illegal export of Hawk missile batteries, and he was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment.

Mr Justice Cranston said a warrant was issued in February 2007 for Tappin’s arrest, but nothing happened until almost three years later when the US government submitted an extradition request.

Edward Fitzgerald QC argued on behalf of Tappin that extradition would now be oppressive under Article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which protects private and family life, because of the delay and the fact that Tappin was responsible for taking care of his sick wife.

Rejecting the submission, the judge said “serious offending” was alleged against Tappin.

According to the extradition request, Tappin had been involved in the conspiracy since April 2006 and was due to receive half of its profits.

It was alleged he had agreed to submit a purchase order falsely describing the batteries, and when they were detained by US customs had discussed with MGE’s agents what explanation could be given regarding their use.

It was also alleged that when he was told their only use was for the Hawk missile system, he offered alternative explanations and emailed his shipper in the Netherlands saying that the end user for the batteries was electroplating at a Dutch chemical company.

Under extradition law, the UK courts had to assume “that the US government is acting in good faith in the account it has provided”.

A number of other figures in high-profile cases are also fighting extradition to the US, including 23-year-old student Richard O’Dwyer, who is accused of breaking US copyright laws.

The mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon said he was “unable to control the terror that consumes his every waking moment” as he fights extradition.

Janis Sharp said the treatment of her son, who admits hacking into military computers but claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs, was “barbaric” as she marked 10 years since his first arrest.

She called for the prime minister to raise the issue with President Obama next month.

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