NatWest Three in plea-bargain move

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The Independent Online

The NatWest Three, the British bankers extradited to face Enron-related fraud charges in the US, are close to agreeing a plea bargain that could speed their return to the UK.

Lawyers for the men have asked for a court hearing in Houston, Texas, tomorrow amid optimism for a deal that would see them admit lesser charges in return for a lighter sentence, and head off a lengthy trial that had been due to start in January.

David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew had campaigned vigorously to have their case fought in the UK, but were eventually flown to the US in July last year under a fast-track extradition treaty that only the UK has so far ratified.

They are accused of defrauding their former employer, Nat West, by pocketing $7.3m from a deal between the bank and Enron. The energy trading giant collapsed in 2001 when it was revealed that its executives were using a string of similar side-deals to artificially inflate profits.

The trio's lawyers refused to comment, but a spokeswoman confirmed that the rearraignment hearing was scheduled for 4pm Houston-time. "It is possible that by then they may have a case put to them against which they can enter a new plea," she said. There was speculation last month that the men were negotiating a deal that involved a guilty plea in return for serving some of their sentence in the UK. A rearraignment is required when charges change substantially.