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2/18/12

Hes happily retired in the suburbs - but next week hell be in a US jail | The Times

Hes happily retired in the suburbs - but next week hell be in a US jail
Martin Fletcher
Last updated February 18 2012 12:01AM

Chris Tappin seems an improbable criminal. Silver-haired, bespectacled and slightly deaf, the retired businessman lives in an elegant house in Orpington, heads the Kent Golf Union, representing the countys 95 clubs, plays bridge and dotes on his grandson. At 9.30am next Friday, however, this apparent model of British middle-class respectability must report to Heathrows police station. He will be handed to US marshals who will escort him on a flight to Texas. On arrival in El Paso he will be stripsearched, manacled and taken into custody. Mr Tappin, 65, will probably spend the next couple of years in a violent, gang-infested US prison for a crime he insists he did not commit and for which he will not have been tried in either Britain or America. He will be 5,000 miles from his wife, who has a debilitating illness. He will sell his home to pay his legal bills. He will have a criminal record for the rest of his life. This is the result of an American sting operation, and a US-UK extradition treaty that rides roughshod over fundamental British legal principles. Last night, MPs of all parties deplored the nature of Mr Tappins extradition and demanded reform of the treaty. Jo Johnson, Mr Tappins Tory MP, said that it acted like a mindless and robotic catapult, flinging people across the Atlantic at the mere whim of US Homeland Security. Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said that it did not allow UK authorities to weigh the quality or quantity of evidence, nor the credibility of witnesses. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, said: To parcel people off to the US and elsewhere without affording them the ability in a UK court to contest what is said against them is not only unfair but a breach of their human rights. The Tappins are still struggling to comprehend the Kafkaesque enormity wrecking their comfortable suburban lives and cherished retirement. I cant believe its happening, Mr Tappin said, while his wife, Elaine, said: Im so shocked, and very frightened for him. You watch people on television going to prison, but you dont think its going to happen to you. Its horrible, horrible. Before retiring in 2008, Mr Tappin owned and ran a freight forwarding company, Brooklands International, and arranged the transport of anything from elephants to Tutankhamuns treasures. In 2006, Robert Gibson, a British client, asked him to ship five industrial batteries at a cost of $25,000 from Texas to an automotive company in Amsterdam.
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2/18/12

Hes happily retired in the suburbs - but next week hell be in a US jail | The Times

Unknown to Gibson, the vendor, Mercury Global Enterprises (MGE) of El Paso, was a front company set up by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to entrap businessmen engaged in the illegal export of controlled technologies. Gibson was arrested that August when he went to inspect the batteries. He was accused of attempting to send them to Iran for use in Hawk air defence missiles. Gibson named Mr Tappin as a co-conspirator, said that they were to share the profits from the battery sales, and provided allegedly incriminating evidence. He was handed a two-year sentence. Mr Tappin insists he had no idea that the batteries were going anywhere but the Netherlands, or that they could be used in missiles. He said that he was merely the shipping agent and that the exporter, MGE, had to obtain the export licence. The following February, Mr Tappin was indicted on three counts by a grand jury in El Paso. He had no chance to defend himself. He had no idea the grand jury had even met until the police arrived at his home in May 2010 and arrested him because US authorities were seeking his extradition. The Bush and Blair governments agreed on the controversial US-UK extradition treaty in 2003 to facilitate the extradition of terrorists, but it has since been deployed against all manner of people, from the industrial executive Ian Norris to the NatWest Three and the hacker Gary McKinnon. It does not require the US to make a prima facie case against its target in a British court a grand jury indictment suffices. A judge cannot rule that the defendant should stand trial in Britain, even if that is where the alleged offence was committed. Provided that certain statutory criteria are fulfilled, courts have little choice but to grant the extradition request. Mr Tappins extradition was allowed to proceed by a magistrates court, the High Court, the Home Secretary and the European Court of Human Rights. At no point could his lawyers fight the case on its merits or test the evidence. Its a denial of justice, Karen Todner, his solicitor, said. Mr Tappin is unlikely to get his day in court in Texas either. He will likely be deemed a flight risk and denied bail. He will then be offered a choice: plead guilty to a minor offence with a short sentence, or demand a trial on all three charges, knowing that he would face up to 35 years the rest of his life in a US prison, with no possibility of repatriation if he loses. A trial might not start for years. It would bankrupt him as there is no legal aid or reimbursement of costs in the US he has already spent $65,000 (41,000) on his American lawyer. He said that six British and Dutch defence witnesses would refuse to testify lest they, too, were arrested. David Bermingham, one of the NatWest Three, who now campaigns against the extradition treaty, said: No rational man in his situation would do anything other than plea bargain, irrespective of the merits of the case.
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2/18/12

Hes happily retired in the suburbs - but next week hell be in a US jail | The Times

Even a short prison sentence could be hellish. Gary Mulgrew, another of the NatWest Three, served his time in Big Spring, Texas. In a new book, he describes an institution run by gangs where beatings, killings and sexual violence are common. Ms Todner doubts that her client would survive physically hes not strong enough. Mr Tappin and his wife are consumed by a burning sense of injustice. He said: Im probably going to be imprisoned without trial, which is abhorrent to everything we believe in this country. I feel Ive had no protection from the British Government. Theyve had no thought about me only about not upsetting the Americans. US-UK extradition treaty The treaty was agreed by the Bush and Blair Governments in 2003, when the War on Terror was at its height. The goal was to speed up the extradition of terrorist suspects It took effect in January 2004 in the UK, but not until April 2007 in the US because the Senate delayed ratification By June 2010 the UK had extradited 62 people to the US, including 28 British citizens or dual nationals. The US had extradited 33 to the UK, three of them US citizens or dual nationals The UK must demonstrate a reasonable basis to believe that the person to be extradited has committed an offence, but there is no reciprocal requirement There is no provision for a forum test allowing a judge to rule that a defendant should be tried in his own country because that was where the substance of the offence was committed The alleged offence must be a crime in both countries and carry a minimum sentence of 12 months The UK may refuse to extradite someone if there is not an assurance that he will not be executed. The extradition must not be politically motivated nor breach a defendants human rights In 2006 Parliament approved an amendment to the Extradition Act to allow a forum test. The Government has yet to ask Parliament to implement it Last October, a review of extradition laws by Sir Scott Baker, did not recommend changes to the US-UK treaty. The pressure group Liberty commented: We dont just disagree with this review but are completely baffled by it The Home Office is reviewing the Baker report

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2/18/12

Hes happily retired in the suburbs - but next week hell be in a US jail | The Times

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