British businessman Christopher Tappin's extradition appeal rejected


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The Independent Online

A retired British businessman will be extradited to the United States within 10 days after failing in his latest attempt to block the move, his lawyer said today.

A last-ditch plea by Christopher Tappin to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to block extradition has been rejected and he will be extradited "within the next 10 days", his lawyer, Karen Todner, said.

The American authorities want to put him on trial accused of conspiring to sell components for Iranian missiles.

The 64-year-old, from Orpington, Kent, denies unlawfully attempting to export batteries for Hawk air defence missiles and says he was the victim of entrapment in a "sting" organised by US government agents.

His long legal battle through the UK courts to block his removal ended in failure last month when High Court judges Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cranston refused to allow him to take his case to the Supreme Court.

Refusing permission, Mr Justice Cranston said time would now begin to run for his removal to the US.

An application to the human rights judges for "Rule 39" relief staying Tappin's removal pending a further hearing of his case in Europe was made, but has now been rejected by the Strasbourg-based court.

Ms Todner, managing director of Kaim Todner Solicitors Ltd, acting for Tappin, said: "The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that they will not grant Rule 39 relief to Mr Tappin.

"Therefore his extradition to America will take place within the next 10 days.

"We truly hope that the UK Government will see this case as an example of the gross injustice to British citizens by the UK/USA extradition treaty and, as they declared in Opposition, they will now act quickly to make the necessary amendments."

An independent review of the UK's extradition arrangements by Sir Scott Baker last year found that the current treaty between the US and the UK was both balanced and fair.

But critics claim it is one-sided and the latest development will increase pressure on the Government to ignore the review's findings and attempt to change the UK-US extradition treaty.

It comes ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama at the White House next month.

Last month, the High Court judges rejected Tappin's challenge to a decision by district judge John Zani at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court last February that extradition could go ahead.

They said the entrapment argument was "unsustainable" and extradition would not be "oppressive" or a breach of human rights.

The judges also ruled that the charges which the president of the all-Kent Golf Club Union faced were "extraditable offences", and they had to accept the extradition request was made "in good faith".

Tappin, a former director of Surrey-based Brooklands International Freight Services, said he had become trapped in a "nightmare" and believed he was exporting batteries for the car industry in the Netherlands.

Mr Justice Cranston said the allegation against Tappin, in broad outline, was that he had participated in the conspiracy with another UK citizen, Robert Gibson, who operated an export business in Cyprus, and American citizen Robert Caldwell. Others involved have not been named.

An investigation was launched by the US Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), using a shell company, Mercury Global Enterprises (MGE), staffed by agents pretending to be members of the business.

In 2007 an Ice agent charged Tappin and the other alleged conspirators with criminal offences.

After his arrest, Gibson agreed - without Tappin knowing - to co-operate with the US authorities and told them he was buying the technology and the Hawk batteries for a long-time Iranian customer in Tehran.

Gibson pleaded guilty in a Texas court and was given a two-year jail sentence in February 2007.

A jury convicted Caldwell in June 2007 of aiding and abetting the illegal export of Hawk missile batteries, and he was sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment.

Mr Justice Cranston said a warrant was issued in February 2007 for Tappin's arrest, but nothing happened until almost three years later when the US government submitted an extradition request.

Edward Fitzgerald QC argued on behalf of Tappin that extradition would now be oppressive under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects private and family life, because of the delay and the fact that Tappin was responsible for taking care of his sick wife.

Rejecting the submission, the judge said "serious offending" was alleged against Tappin.

According to the extradition request, Tappin had been involved in the conspiracy since April 2006 and was due to receive half of its profits.

It was alleged he had agreed to submit a purchase order falsely describing the batteries, and when they were detained by US customs had discussed with MGE's agents what explanation could be given regarding their use.

It was also alleged that when he was told their only use was for the Hawk missile system, he offered alternative explanations and emailed his shipper in the Netherlands saying that the end user for the batteries was electroplating at a Dutch chemical company.

Under extradition law, the UK courts had to assume "that the US government is acting in good faith in the account it has provided".

A number of other figures in high-profile cases are also fighting extradition to the US, including 23-year-old student Richard O'Dwyer who is accused of breaking American copyright laws.

And the mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon said he was "unable to control the terror that consumes his every waking moment" as he fights extradition.

Janis Sharp said the treatment of her son, who admits hacking into military computers but claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs, was "barbaric" as she marked 10 years since his first arrest.

She called for the Prime Minister to raise the issue with Mr Obama next month.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who has known Tappin and his family for nearly 40 years, said he found "the prospect of his imminent extradition to the USA distressing".

"Unless the Home Secretary, Theresa May, stops this process, he will face the prospect of being forced into a plea-bargaining position or end his days in an American prison," he said.

"It is time we stood up for Mr Tappin and other UK nationals and told the USA we wish to amend this treaty."