Extradition victory for ex-Morgan Crucible boss

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The former Morgan Crucible chief executive Ian Norris won a "significant victory" in his battle against extradition to America, where he faces charges of price-fixing, following a landmark ruling by the House of Lords.

Lawyers representing Mr Norris, 65, said they were "delighted" by the law lords' decision to halt the extradition process, which would also have businesses across the UK breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Ill health prevented Mr Norris from being in court yesterday to hear the verdict, which denied that the price-fixing charge constituted conspiracy to defraud, the cornerstone of the US case for extradition against him. Mr Norris is not out of the woods yet, though, as he still has to battle charges of obstruction of justice, which could yet see him extradited. He has always vigorously denied all charges.

The US Department of Justice has been attempting to bring Mr Norris to trial in Pennsylvania, after his arrest in London in 2005. In America, he faces charges of allegedly rigging prices in the carbon parts market, along with other executives, as well as obstructing a subsequent investigation. The indictment alleges that the cartel operated in the US from 1989 to 2000.

Price-fixing was only made a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2002 with the introduction of the Enterprise Act, and the DoJ's case was rejected as Mr Norris's alleged price-fixing activities predate that time. The DoJ then tried to repackage the charge of price-fixing as conspiracy to defraud to make the case for extradition.

The Lords concluded that "mere price-fixing" was not relevant to the charge against Mr Norris, which meant his "appeal in relation to this count must accordingly be allowed". Nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted under English common law for price-fixing using the offence of a conspir-acy to defraud.

Mr Norris, who left Morgan Crucible in 2002 following a battle with prostate cancer, said in the wake of the verdict: "The ruling has at last given some light at the end of the tunnel, in what has been a very unfair and difficult situation for my family and me.

"Even with the decision today, I still remain deeply concerned about the one-sided extradition arrangements we have struck up with the USA. It's a deeply frightening situation to be in and I'm relieved that the UK justice system has stood up for its citizens," he added.

Alistair Graham, a partner at White & Case, the law firm that represented Mr Norris, said: "The DoJ's attempts to extradite Ian on this basis were of grave concern to the UK business community at large, human rights organisations and the political opposition parties."

Mr Norris is not yet safe from extradition. The law lords ruled the obstruction of justice charges were still an extraditable offence in principle, and the case would be heard in the District Court.

Mr Graham said it would be "wholly disproportionate" to extradite Mr Norris and "an infringement of his human rights, and we will continue to fight this case every step of the way".

Also yesterday, the drug company Goldshield Group and others received a similar judgment from the House of Lords, finding that charges of price-fixing brought by the Serious Fraud Office do not amount to conspiracy to defraud. Last week, Goldshield settled claims of fixing medicine prices brought by the health authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The SFO now has to decide whether to amend its case and continue to target Goldshield.