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Christopher Tappin jailed for 33 months for arms-to-Iran scheme


A retired British businessman who has been sentenced to 33 months in an American prison for arms dealing offences faces a wait of months before learning when he can return to serve his sentence in Britain.

Christopher Tappin, 66, a grandfather who was president of the Kent County Golf Union until his extradition to Texas last year, struck a plea bargain with American prosecutors last year over allegations that he sold air defence missile batteries that he believed were destined for Iran.

The former shipping agent fought a long battle against extradition to the United States after saying he had fallen foul of a sting operation by American customs investigators, who set up a front company to entice Tappin and his business partners into attempting to sell material to Tehran.

At a brief  court hearing in El Paso today, Tappin, who pleaded guilty last year to a single count of  aiding and abetting the illegal export of defence articles, had his plea deal with the US authorities formally approved and must now report to a state penitentiary in Pennsylvania before 8 March.

Prosecutors said last November that they had no objection to Tappin, who was also fined $11,357 (£7,044), serving his sentence in a British jail.

But the Briton, whose wife of 30 years - Elaine - suffers from a debilitating illness, will only be able to start the process of seeking a transfer to the UK once he enters the US prison system and it is likely to be several months before the process is complete.

A source said: “It is a slow process and once you are in the prison system you are just a number.”

The father-of-two, who is selling his house on a gated estate in Orpington, Kent, to pay for his legal fees, will now swap an apartment in a Houston suburb - where he has been staying since he was granted bail last April after two months on remand - for a state prison.

Following his arrival from London’s Heathrow airport in a high-profile extradition, Tappin was initially kept in solitary confinement in a Texas jail, where he said he was brought to the brink of a breakdown. He was later moved to a dormitory wing, maintaining spirits by playing his beloved golf using an upturned walking stick and rolled up tissues.

Tappin was one of several British citizens, including alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who fought an arduous battle against extradition the United States, arguing that the current treaty between London and Washington is unbalanced.

Speaking after her husband’s sentencing, Mrs Tappin said: “Under the circumstances, I fully understand and support Chris’ plea. Now I can begin to see light at the end of this long dark tunnel – but remain frustrated that Chris’ extradition was granted in the first place.”