Christopher Tappin released on bail

 

A retired British businessman who was extradited to the United States over arms dealing charges has been freed on bail.

Christopher Tappin, who faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted, was released from Otero County detention centre in New Mexico after his family paid 50,000 dollars (£31,026) of a one million-dollar (£620,527) bond.

A family spokeswoman said the 65-year-old former president of the Kent Golf Union was released yesterday and his family was planning to visit him in Texas, where he must stay, as soon as possible.

As he left court Tappin told reporters he was "relieved" to have been released.

Speaking after the judge set the terms of his release, his wife Elaine said she was "grateful for the judge's humanity".

Mrs Tappin, 62, of Orpington, Kent, said her husband had been "unnecessarily locked up" for more than eight weeks and "abandoned by the authorities in his own country".

By releasing him on bail, the judge had given him an opportunity to challenge the allegations made against him, she said.

Mrs Tappin added: "We are making arrangements to visit him as soon as we can."

Tappin, who denies trying to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Iran, faces trial in El Paso, Texas.

His case has fuelled the row over the fairness of the extradition treaty between the UK and the US.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC said Tappin's extradition highlighted problems with the treaty which were not "readily curable", warning that many Britons were left uneasy when faced with the seemingly harsh and disproportionate sentences in the American justice system.

Other critics of the 2003 treaty, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, have described it as "one-sided", but an independent review by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker last year found it was balanced and fair.

Tappin's extradition follows an investigation which started in 2005 when US agents asked technology providers about buyers who might have raised red flags.

Those customers were then approached by undercover companies set up by government agencies.

Briton Robert Gibson, an associate of Tappin who agreed to co-operate, was jailed for 24 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defence articles.

Gibson provided customs agents with about 16,000 computer files and emails allegedly indicating that he and Tappin had long-standing commercial ties with Iranian customers.

American Robert Caldwell was also found guilty of aiding and abetting the illegal transport of defence articles and served 20 months in prison.

Mrs Tappin, speaking at the family home in Orpington, Kent, said her brain was "mush" after all the drama of the last few months.

She said: "All I know is what everybody has seen on the television this morning. I haven't spoken to my husband yet but am hoping to later on today.

"My brain is mush at the moment."

Asked when she would be going to America to visit him, she added: "I don't know because I haven't spoken to my husband yet."

PA

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