High Court to rule today on Enron extraditions

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The Independent Online

The Three former NatWest bankers will hear from the High Court today whether they are to be extradited to the US to answer Enron-related fraud charges where they could face up to 35 years in prison.

The verdict could have implications for other cases where British businessmen have fallen foul of extradition laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Business leaders have protested against the legislation, which leaves UK executives vulnerable to a US crackdown on white-collar crime.

David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby are accused of defrauding Greenwich NatWest of $7.3m (£4.2m) by investing in one of Enron's offshore operations. US prosecutors say they worked with the former senior Enron executives Andrew Fastow and Michael Kopper, who have admitted their role in the alleged scheme as part of a plea bargain.

The bankers launched a dual-pronged legal challenge last year by appealing against the Home Secretary's ruling to allow their extradition and by challenging the decision by the Serious Fraud Office not to investigate them in Britain. The men argue that as Britons accused of defrauding a UK bank they should be prosecuted here.

The High Court is expected to issue rulings in both claims today. It is unlikely to be the end of the long-running legal battle, however, because the bankers and the US government have indicated they would appeal to the House of Lords depending on the outcome.

In a meeting of lawyers and MPs last week, Boris Johnson, Mr Bermingham's constituency MP, urged a review of the extradition treaty, saying: "I think you will agree it is time we stopped poodling on this one."

Legal experts have deplored the US-UK extradition arrange ments. US authorities are not required to present a prima facie case, meaning that it takes very little for them to make an extradition request while Britons have been stripped of the protections that previously enabled them to fight such requests on UK soil. The key difference is that the US can challenge the evidence put forward in extradition requests from the UK, whereas UK citizens have no such right. The balance will remain tipped in favour of the US until it ratifies its side of the extradition treaty.

Roger Best, at Clifford Chance, said: "The possibility of extradition to the US to face criminal charges poses a significant risk for UK businesses. While UK directors are well placed to assess the risk of committing domestic criminal offences, it is more difficult for them to assess whether their conduct in the UK offends rapidly developing commercial crime laws in other jurisdictions, such as the US."

Other cases concern Ian Norris, the former chief executive of Morgan Crucible, who is fighting extradition to the US on price-fixing charges.

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