CBI boss blasts Government over 'unfair' extradition treaty

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The Independent Online

The CBI renewed its attack on the Government yesterday over its controversial extradition treaty with the US as the former Morgan Crucible boss Ian Norris lost his appeal against extradition under the treaty on price-fixing charges.

The new guidelines - published yesterday by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith - stress the need for fairness and early communication between US and UK prosecutors. They are designed to take the heat out of the issue in the wake of the controversy surrounding the extradition of the so-called "NatWest Three".

But in response, the CBI director general, Richard Lambert, said: "This is a missed opportunity. The fundamental issue is that British citizens can still be extradited to the United States without prima facie evidence of an offence.

"The Government has not addressed the concerns of business that this is unfair treatment."

The case of Mr Norris is the latest to raise the issue of the treaty - which has still not been ratified in the US - after its use to extradite three former NatWest bankers to America, where they face charges related to the collapse of Enron.

However, Mr Norris's case has potentially wider implications because he faces charges of price-fixing between 1989 and 2000 - even though the alleged offences were not criminalised in the UK until 2003.

His lawyers argue that if he is extradited it will leave large numbers of other British business people open to similar charges.

The 64-year-old, who is suffering from cancer, had argued that the alleged offences were not extraditable and the US government's attempt to remove him breached his human rights. However, the arguments were rejected.

He is now set to take the case to the House of Lords. Alistair Graham, his lawyer, said: "We continue to believe that the issues raised in this case need to be heard by the UK's highest court... and will be seeking leave to appeal there as soon as possible.

"The question of whether price-fixing can be characterised as the old English common law offence of conspiracy to defraud is an absolutely critical point of law, not only in this case and therefore for future potential extradition requests but also for UK competition law and UK businesses in general."

He added: "We have been saying for more than two years that no criminal offence for price-fixing existed in the UK prior to the enactment of the Enterprise Act 2002. Nobody in the UK has ever been prosecuted for price-fixing under the banner of conspiracy to defraud, for what we still believe are very sound legal reasons."