Tappin admits arms dealing

 

The British businessman Christopher Tappin admitted an arms dealing charge last night in a plea bargain with prosecutors in the United States.

Appearing in a court in El Paso, Texas, the 65-year-old former president of the Kent County Golf Union changed his plea to guilty on one count of the indictment, which accuses him of trying to buy batteries for surface-to-air missile parts from undercover American agents and illegally resell them to Iran.

The plea agreement is expected to carry a 33-month sentence and last night his lawyer, Dan Cogdell, said his client was likely to spend several months in a US prison while authorities in Washington and the UK decide whether to extradite him to a British jail. He was released on bail until 9 January, when District Judge David Briones will decide the sentence.

"He pled guilty because he was guilty," Mr Cogdell said.

Last week Tappin's wife Elaine, 62, said the plea bargain was the beginning of his safe return. Following yesterday's news, she said: "My overwhelming feeling remains one of anxiety and sadness. However at last I dare hope that Chris will be back on home soil next year. I feel we are getting to the beginning of the end."

The retired Kent shipping agent had always denied charges of conspiracy to illegally export defence articles, aiding and abetting the illegal export of defence articles and conspiracy to conduct illegal financial transactions, insisting that he thought the batteries were destined for the Netherlands. After losing his two-year fight against extradition to the US, he was deported in February and spent two months in a federal prison in New Mexico.

He was charged after US federal agents offered to sell Robert Gibson, a Cyprus-based business associate of Mr Tappin, five specialised batteries in 2006 for a total of $25,000 (£16,000).

Tappin was alleged to have been part of an attempt to send the batteries to Iran knowing they were a component of US-built Hawk missiles. He has always insisted Mr Gibson told him the batteries were for car manufacture.

Gibson agreed to co-operate and was jailed for 24 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defence items.

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