AP: A retired British businessman accused by the United States of attempting to sell equipment to Iran for use in surface-to-air missiles said Tuesday he will fight attempts to extradite him to stand trial.
The Associated Press
By DAVID STRINGER
LONDON (AP) — A retired British businessman accused by the United States of attempting to sell equipment to Iran for use in surface-to-air missiles said Tuesday he will fight attempts to extradite him to stand trial.
Christopher Tappin, 63, faces three charges filed in El Paso, Texas, in relation to an alleged deal to ship specialized batteries for Hawk missiles to Tehran, his lawyers said.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says the weapons deal was exposed in a sting by undercover customs agents.
U.S. authorities allege Tappin struck a $25,000 deal to buy five specialized batteries from agents posing as suppliers, and then was involved in arrangements for the sale of the equipment to Iran in breach of export license laws.
Tappin told reporters in London he was unaware the equipment was destined for Iran, had stood to make only $500 from his role in the deal and claimed to have been unwittingly duped by customs agents.
“I deny these allegations,” Tappin said at a news conference. “I was the victim of the unlawful conduct of U.S. agents who pretended to belong to a false company, known as Mercury Global Enterprises. It exists solely to ensnare unsuspecting importers.”
Tappin’s case is the latest to expose tensions in arrangements for the transfer of criminal suspects between the United States and Britain. Britain’s new coalition government has pledged to review law governing U.S.-U.K. extradition to make sure it is fair, but has not yet offered any specific plans for reform.
Lawyers complain that the U.S. is not required to offer any substantial proof of an allegation when seeking to extradite a suspect from Britain to stand trial.
In one celebrated case, Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a halt to the planned extradition of hacker Gary McKinnon, who is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly breaking into American military computers. She said in May his case is on hold while extradition procedures are reviewed.
Two other men have previously been jailed in the U.S. over the battery smuggling plot — Robert Caldwell, of Portland, Oregon, was sentenced to 20 months jail and Robert Frederick Gibson pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, the customs agency said.
An indictment naming Tappin was filed at the Texas Western District Court in February 2007 and alleged the smuggling plot took place between December 2005 and January 2007.
Tappin’s lawyers said he faces a possible maximum sentence of 35 years in jail if convicted in the United States and insist that the case should be heard at British courts — rather than in Texas.
“He never knew they were anything to do with Iran or anything to do with missiles,” said Ben Seifert, a spokesman for Tappin’s lawyer Karen Todner, referring to the batteries. “Mr. Tappin has a huge amount of experience in import and export and he assumed that these batteries were for perfectly peaceful and nonmilitary needs.”
Seifert said customs agents “told lies in order to attempt to ensnare and entrap a respected British businessman.”
Tappin, who was previously a director of Brooklands International Freight Services, a company based in southern England, told reporters he had contact with companies in Iran and “all over the world” during his career, but had never been involved in arms deals.
“Even though I am certain I did nothing wrong, I would be happy to face trial here in the United Kingdom, and not the U.S.A.,” said Tappin, who is chairman of a southern England golf society, the Kent County Golf Union.
He said the case had left his family “nervous and unsure” about the future. “We just want to resolve this situation as soon as possible,” he said.
Conservative Party lawmaker Jo Johnson, who is offering help in Tappin’s case, said the government hopes to complete a review of extradition rules by September 2011.
Tappin is due to appear at a London court on Sept. 2 for a formal extradition hearing. The court will decide whether to send the case to May, who must make a final decision on whether to send him for trial to the U.S.