NatWest Three may consider plea bargain

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The Independent Online

One of the three former NatWest bankers who face extradition to the United States in a matter of days to stand trial on Enron-related fraud charges yesterday spoke for the first time of the possibility of a plea bargain.

David Bermingham said the trio were resigned to being extradited to the US after losing a long-running court battle to have their case investigated in Britain.

"We're now in negotiation with the US government to try to see whether we can work out a bail package," he said. "We would love a bail condition that would allow us to come back here and prepare for our defence." If the men are refused bail, they face up to two years in a high-security jail in Houston, Texas, before a trial.

The case is the first major test of a controversial treaty between the US and Britain which, in order to speed up terrorism cases, has reduced the level of evidence required for US extradition requests. Critics say the treaty is being abused by the US to target white-collar criminals.

Mr Bermingham said in the US federal justice system 98 per cent of people plead guilty via a plea bargain, especially in white-collar cases which can be lengthy and costly if they come to trial. It would cost the three bankers $2m (£1.1m) each to fight the case in the US as they would have to defend themselves separately and fly over 32 witnesses from the UK. Even if they won their case, they would not get their money back under American law.

Mr Bermingham said he and his co-defendants - Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby - had spent an "obscene" amount of money battling against their extradition and would have to sell their houses if they had to go to trial.

He said the trio, who are in their early 40s and have 10 young children between them, were looking at 20 years in prison each if found guilty. A plea bargain could cut that to five years. He pointed to Ben Glisson, the former Enron treasurer, who was indicted on 28 counts and received a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to one count, which was similar to the seven counts of wire fraud faced by the NatWest Three. They are accused of plotting with former Enron executives to defraud the collapsed energy giant of $20m, pocketing $7.3m themselves. The men deny the charges and want to be tried in the UK.

Boris Johnson, Mr Bermingham's MP, who has been leading a Tory campaign to amend the Extradition Treaty, said: "The French have a system where they require the Americans to provide [solid] prima facie evidence - why can't we do it? Because we are poodling."

Business figures will march at 5pm today from the Institute of Directors to the Home Office to protest against the extradition regime with the US. Miles Templeman, the IoD director general, said: "This issue... could increasingly make UK companies reluctant to do business in the US."

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