If three British former bankers accused of orchestrating a deal to help Enron executives line their own pockets are extradited to the US, they could receive the same heavy sentences that the collapsed energy giant's ex-chief executive and chairman face if they are found guilty on multiple charges of fraud.
Douglas McNabb, a US criminal defence lawyer giving evidence in the trio's defence, told Bow Street magistrates' court yesterday that allowing the extradition to go ahead would mean the financiers, who used to work at Greenwich NatWest, would not receive a fair trial.
"Under the federal sentencing guidelines they could receive 22 years each. That is what Kenneth Ley [Enron's chairman] and Jeffrey Skilling [its chief executive] are potentially looking at," Mr McNabb said.
David Bermingham, 42, Giles Darby, 42, and Gary Mulgrew, 42, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud. They were managing directors of Greenwich NatWest when they are alleged to have carried out the fraud.
The US Department of Justice claims they persuaded NatWest to sell its interest in a company called LJM Swap Sub for less than it was worth. It is alleged the three pocketed $2.3m (£1.28m) each and made a profit of more than $12m for two executives at Enron, which had links with LJM.
The Enron executives, the former chief financial officer Andrew Fastow and his colleague Michael Kopper, have admitted their role in the alleged scheme as part of a plea bargain.
Mr McNabb said people in Houston, Texas, where Enron was based, felt "shamed" by Enron's collapse, making it difficult to find an open-minded jury. The three have argued that if regulators believe there is a case to answer it should happen in the UK. The hearing continues.