Abigail Townsend: NatWest Three should be tried in a British court

These white-collar extraditions will damage our trade links with the US
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The Independent Online

David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby last week exhausted their options and will be flown to the US to face seven counts of "wire fraud". The former Greenwich NatWest executives are accused of conspiring to defraud their employers of $7.3m (£4m) in an Enron-related deal. They deny all wrongdoing.

Do not mistake me. These men should face trial, and be punished if found guilty. But being dragged to the US - where the alleged crimes were not committed - through the one-way Extradition Act is not justice. Nor is it fighting terrorism, the reason this repellent piece of legislation was agreed to.

Once there, they face up to two years in a medium-security jail while the trial is prepared. Foreign nationals rarely get bail, but these three dared to fight extradition so they are likely to be judged a flight risk.

And if found guilty, it's back to that medium-security jail. Most white-collar criminals end up in minimum security. But these three face imprisonment at a higher level because they are foreign. And if they are found guilty, their sentences are likely to be harsh - not helped by the extradition fight, despite the fact they were pursuing legitimate avenues.

Our pandering to the US can only be damaging for business. Already companies are reluctant to list in New York and face wading through Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. And now there is a very real personal risk to doing business in the US. In the old days of conglomerates, Hanson proudly used the tag line, "the company from over here that's doing rather well over there". I doubt it would go down so well these days.

But there is only so much individuals can do, as the NatWest Three have found. The Government may not be able to change US regulation or the severe sentences handed down to white-collar criminals. And anyway, if that's how Americans want to do things at home, so be it. But the extradition of businessmen to be dealt with by a foreign justice system is something it can and must address.

One final thought. I can't help but wonder whether the Government would have sat back to the same extent if this hadn't been white-collar crime. It smacks of that rather tired assumption that anything to do with business is not worthy of our sympathy.

Fair trade, not aid

Much attention has been given to the first anniversary of Live8 and whether the G8 made good on its promises, made during the sort of groundswell of public opinion no politician can resist.

Bob Geldof was not happy. A report by his pressure group Data (Debt, Aid and Trade for Africa) said debt relief was improving but trade talks were going backwards. Which means politicians have got it back to front.

An agreement to write off Africa's debt is great. But that alone is not going to revitalise the continent. The key for Africa is trade. It needs to develop on a level playing field as a respected part of the global economy.

I am not opposed to trade restrictions. But currently they are largely set up to benefit the wealthy. Until developed nations remove the shackles, nothing lasting will be achieved.

Or will it? Investec last week pointed to the interesting fact that bilateral trade between China and Africa has grown 43-fold to $39bn in 15 years, and nine-fold to $9bn between India and Africa.

It's a nice thought: while the West offers half-hearted attempts to help the world's poorest nations - often in the most patronising terms - Africa is getting on with business. And that maybe, one day, it could bite the hand that refused to feed it.

a.townsend@independent.co.uk

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