From Kent to Texas, grandfather facing 35 years in US jail

Accused of arms dealing, Chris Tappin is the latest victim of what many believe to be a lopsided extradition treaty

During his 40-year career as a shipping agent, Chris Tappin sent some unusual items around the globe, including the London Bridge and the treasures of Tutankhamun.

But nothing prepared him for the export transaction that now threatens to separate him permanently from his home and family – himself.

Barring a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, the 65-year-old grandfather and president of the Kent County Golf Union will receive a phone call as early as next week asking him to attend a police station. Once there, he will be met by US marshals, manacled and placed on a flight to Texas to face criminal charges. He has no guarantee of bail and, if convicted, potentially faces 35 years in prison.

This bridge-playing elder statesman of the Kentish gin-and-Jag belt, hitherto a successful businessman and pillar of his community, is the latest target of the controversial extradition treaty with America which campaigners last week described as a "stain" on the presumption of innocence in the British justice system.

Critics, including supporters of Gary McKinnon, sought by the Americans on computer-hacking charges, are asking for a forthcoming government review to make amendments, including introducing a rule allowing courts to prevent extradition if most of a crime was committed here.

All of which is likely to come too late for Mr Tappin, 65, who last month exhausted his final legal avenue in Britain when the High Court threw out his appeal against a ruling that he should face charges across the Atlantic for allegedly trying to sell missile parts to Iran.

He is now contemplating the possibility that he will see out his days in a cell in El Paso for a crime that he not only denies committing, but also claims was invented by the US authorities to entrap a foreign citizen.

Sitting in his house near Orpington, south-east London, which he expects to have to sell to pay his legal fees in the US, Mr Tappin, who retired in 2008 from the freighting agency he founded, struggles to contain his disbelief at what he sees as the failure of the British state to protect him from "frivolous" charges.

He told The Independent: "I was all set to enjoy my retirement with my grandson, my family and playing a bit of golf. And then suddenly this nightmare scenario turns up and I find I have no rights at all in this country.

"No prima facie case has been produced against me by the Americans. The judiciary and the Government have allowed this lop-sided extradition law to be established. Ridiculous."

A dignified man proud of the company he built up from nothing, Mr Tappin will leave behind his five-year-old grandson and his 62-year-old wife, Elaine, who suffers from Churg-Strauss system, a rare auto-immune disorder.

At the heart of the entrepreneur's predicament is a transatlantic customs investigation that seemed to owe more to the pages of an airport thriller than the reality of the West's attempts to hinder Iran's acquisition of weaponry.

Using a Texas-based front company called Mercury Global Enterprises (MGE), agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offered Robert Gibson, a Cyprus-based business associate of Mr Tappin, a deal in 2006 to sell five specialised Eagle Pitcher batteries for a total of $25,000 (£16,000).

The criminal complaint filed against Mr Tappin, who is accused of fraud and conspiracy to export military equipment without a licence, alleges he was at the core of an attempt to send the power packs to Tehran in the knowledge that they were a component of US-built Hawk missiles. Washington sold the air defence system to the Shah, leaving Iran's Islamic rulers to seek spare parts on the black market after he was deposed in 1979.

Mr Tappin insists that Mr Gibson, who was subsequently arrested in the US and gave evidence against the Briton in return for a reduced two-year prison term, told him the batteries were for use in car manufacturing and destined for the Netherlands. The word "Iran" was never mentioned.

The entrepreneur also claims he was never given a full description of the batteries by MGE, was lied to about the legal requirements he faced and assured by the "company" that it would obtain the necessary export licences under rules known as "Free On Board", which make the exporter responsible for complying with US regulations.

The result, according to Mr Tappin and his lawyers, is an entrapment operation which would have been illegal under British law and thus renders extradition unthinkable. A legal document filed on his behalf states: "Ultimately, the US agents told lies in order to entrap a respected British businessman."

Certainly, there are question marks over the American case, which ICE claims is bolstered by email traffic proving a conspiracy between Mr Tappin and Mr Gibson. Among the allegations is that Mr Tappin used a false identity, "Ian Pullen", to negotiate with MGE. Mr Pullen is a real person who worked as an import manager for Brooklands.

But, under the rules of the extradition agreement, according to Mr Tappin and his lawyers, none of this can be tested until he finds himself before a US court. Mr Tappin says none of the six witnesses he has lined up to clear his name are yet willing to travel to America to testify, leaving him with the choice of either pleading his innocence without evidence or accepting a plea bargain.

The Briton will hear in the coming days whether an application for his case to be heard in Europe under human rights legislation has been granted.

Mrs Tappin said: "With extradition, you are punished twice. Though you've not been found guilty of anything, you are taken away from your country, your family and your life. It's almost as if you're guilty before you've even got there to defend yourself."

Unequal Treaty: UK-US extraditions

The NatWest Three

The extradition in 2006 of three British bankers – Giles Darby, David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew – became a cause célèbre after authorities in Texas brought wire fraud charges against them linked to the collapsed energy firm Enron. They struck a plea bargain and were sentenced to 37 months in prison.

Alex Stone

The Briton was extradited to Missouri in 2004 and spent six months in jail awaiting trial on child abuse allegations until the charges were dropped. He criticised the replacement of the requirement on the US authorities to provide a prima facie case with a much lower test of "reasonable suspicion".

Babar Ahmad

The IT worker has been held without trial in Britain since 2004 awaiting extradition for alleged fund-raising for terrorism. His case is currently before the European Court of Human Rights.

footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Paul McCartney backs the
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone