Christopher Tappin refused bail by American court


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The Independent US

The wife of a retired British businessman extradited to the United States has said it is “heartbreaking” that he will be kept behind bars while he awaits trial on arms dealing charges.

Elaine Tappin said it was an “outrage” that her 65-year-old husband Christopher was denied bail last night in El Paso, Texas.

Judge Robert Castaneda ruled Tappin must remain in custody after US prosecutors told the federal court in El Paso, Texas, he may be a “danger to the community” if released.

He agreed that measures could be imposed to ensure Tappin is monitored if released, but said a discrepancy in Tappin's financial statement led to him being denied bail.

Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the US Attorney's office in the western district of Texas, added that Tappin was denied bail because he “posed a flight risk”.

Tappin, who faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted of trying to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Iran, has spent 23 hours a day locked in his cell at the Otero County detention centre in New Mexico.

Mrs Tappin, 62, of Orpington, Kent, said: “This is an outrage. God only knows how he'll bear up. It's heartbreaking.

“I am shocked and deeply disappointed,” she said.

“He's a man of his word and is certainly not at risk of fleeing - where would he go?

“He doesn't have his passport or access to money.

“Why has the British Government allowed him to be incarcerated in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day before he's even been tried?

“Tony Blair helped the NatWest Three, why can't David Cameron help Chris?”

Mrs Tappin went on: “He's not a danger to anyone - he's a 65-year-old granddad.

“How is he supposed to prepare a proper defence when he's only been allowed to communicate with his lawyers from behind a plastic screen?”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who has known Tappin for almost 40 years, added he was “absolutely appalled” that he had been denied bail, “but even more so that the Home Secretary has done absolutely nothing to help the situation”.

In a brief telephone conversation with his wife on Sunday night, Tappin told her he was shackled and confined in a cage for five hours before his bail hearing on Friday, a family spokeswoman said.

The president of the Kent Golf Union was escorted into the courtroom wearing an orange-red prison jumpsuit, with his feet and one hand shackled.

US marshals allowed the other hand to remain free so he could use a cane he needs to walk.

Assistant US attorney Greg McDonald asked the judge to keep Tappin in jail for the remainder of the proceedings.

“The risk is not that he'll punch somebody in the face, but through the use of a computer and the knowledge he has, he might pose a danger to the community,” Mr McDonald said.

Tappin has no ties to the US and failed to disclose to court officials his frequent travels to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, he added.

But Kent Schaffer, representing Tappin, said if released, his client would have complied with any restrictions imposed by the court and his family was ready to post bail of 50,000 dollars (£31,600).

His trial will take place before US District Judge David Briones in El Paso, but no date has been set.

The 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 both 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 ICE agents with about 16,000 computer files and emails 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.

Mr Schaffer told BBC Radio 5 Live an appeal against the decision not to grant his client bail will now be launched.

“We expect that it (the appeal) will be filed some time this week and we will then get a hearing date to go back before a different judge,” he said.