Natwest 3 'witness' found dead in park

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The controversy over the extradition of the NatWest Three to the US took a tragic turn today when the body of a banker linked to the case was found in a London park.

Neil Coulbeck, a former head of group treasury at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) who had reportedly been questioned by the FBI about the NatWest Three case, disappeared from his home in Woodford Green, east London, last Thursday.

His body was found in parkland between a golf course and a wood near his home yesterday.

David Bermingham, one of the NatWest Three, said the discovery "put everything that's happened to us in perspective".

He said: "One day when this is all over I'm going to be coming home to my wife and children and some poor guy is not and my heart goes out to his wife and family."

He said that he understood almost all of the witnesses the US Department of Justice has said are required for the prosecution of the three bankers on fraud charges are employees of RBS-owned NatWest.

He also said one of the witnesses, who he did not identify, "was very aggressively interviewed by the FBI and was quite traumatised by the entire experience".

News of Mr Coulbeck's death came as Tony Blair raised hopes today that Mr Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby, who are to be extradited to the US tomorrow, could be given bail when they arrive.

The three are accused of an £11 million fraud in which their former employer NatWest was advised to sell part of a company owned by collapsed US giant Enron for less than it was worth.

The Prime Minister rejected calls to renegotiate the extradition terms.

At question time in the House of Commons today, Mr Blair said he had been informed that US prosecutors would not oppose conditional bail in the NatWest case.

But he insisted there was no point reviewing the Extradition Act 2003 because the bankers would still have been extradited under previous laws.

"According to the senior Treasury counsel, even under the old test of having to provide prima facie evidence, these people would still be extradited and indeed the case for extradition was actually mounted originally under the old law not the new law," he said.

His comments came ahead of a rare emergency debate in the Commons this afternoon in which Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg urged the "unfair" extradition treaty to be ditched.

The Government also came under fire for its failure to intervene in the case from Mr Bermingham.

He said he did not resent the US authorities for pursuing the case but lay the blame squarely at the door of the UK Government for "burying its head in the sand".

"My views on the Government are quite frankly unprintable," he said.

"There is not another nation on the planet that would put their own citizens in this situation.

"If these are crimes at all, they are British crimes."

The three men deny any criminal conduct and have always insisted that if there was a case against them it should be tried in England because that is where they live and where the alleged offences took place.

The case has highlighted concerns over the extradition treaty sealed by former Home Secretary David Blunkett in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US.

The treaty - originally presented as a tool in the fight against terrorism - allows British citizens to be extradited to the US without American courts having to provide a case for them to answer.

But the failure so far of the US Senate to ratify it means that no such arrangements exist in relation to US citizens wanted in UK courts.

A three-hour Commons debate, secured by the Lib Dems, was under way this afternoon in a last ditch bid to prevent the extradition.

Although it cannot directly block the removal of the men, their supporters hope it will pile pressure on the Government to suspend extraditions until the controversy is resolved.

Last night, peers inflicted defeat on the Government over the issue in the House of Lords, voting by 218-116 in favour of a motion to suspend the Extradition Act 2003 until the American Senate has signed its side of the deal.

But the Lords vote comes too late for the three bankers, as it would have to be approved by MPs, who will not consider it until the Police and Justice Bill comes before the Commons in October.

Mr Bermingham said he did not hold out much hope that the debate would force current Home Secretary John Reid to step in.

"That would require an act of political will that this Government is not well-known for," he said.