Christopher Tappin: Why was a retired Briton extradited to US?
- 27 April 2012
- From the section UK
Who is Christopher Tappin, the retired UK businessman extradited to the US on charges of plotting to sell weapons parts to Iran?
And why do US authorities want the Briton behind bars?
Perhaps Christopher Tappin wanted peace and quiet in his retirement.
Maybe he wanted some time to reflect after more than two decades spent running his own freight business.
But the 65-year-old probably didn't expect the solipsistic silence of solitary confinement.
In Texas, thousands of miles from the beautifully manicured fairways in Kent on which he had planned to improve his golf handicap, the Briton found himself alone in a windowless cell.
The grandfather-of-one was held at New Mexico's Otero County detention centre for two months following his extradition from the UK in late February.
Mr Tappin told the Times newspaper about conditions at the prison.
"I've never had an experience like it. Psychologically, I felt myself slipping away... I can't tell you how difficult it was," he said.
He told the newspaper he spent 10 days in solitary confinement before being moved to a cell he shared with six aggressive inmates.
Mr Tappin was released from custody in April on bail of $1m (£620,000).
The Briton's prison stay followed a two-year fight against his extradition to the US, where authorities accuse him of being a willing participant in a cross-border conspiracy.
Mr Tappin, from Orpington, south-east London, is accused of conspiring to export batteries for Hawk surface-to-air missiles from the US to Iran.
The Briton strongly denies the offences, which carry a sentence of up to 35 years in jail, meaning he would probably spend the rest of his life behind bars.
A date for his trial is yet to be arranged.
The Briton says he believed he was exporting batteries for the car industry in the Netherlands.
Unbeknownst to him, he says, his client had been dealing with a fictitious company set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcements.
He claims he was the victim of a FBI "sting" operation.
The 2003 Anglo-American extradition treaty didn't allow him to challenge the evidence against him in a British court.
Mr Tappin, who part-owned Surrey-based Brooklands International Freight Services, claims the FBI agents pretending to belong to the fictitious export company set out to deceive him.
He also claims the company selling the parts was a fake one set up by a US customs sting operation.
"I didn't know these batteries were for Hawk missiles and I didn't know they were destined for Iran," he told the BBC.
"I'm just appalled that things could come to this - especially in my life now, when I'm 65, been retired for four years and enjoying retirement."
Mr Tappin was indicted in 2007 but didn't find out about this until three years later when he was arrested by UK police.
The case against him follows an investigation which started in 2005 when US agents asked technology providers about buyers who might have raised concerns.
Those customers were approached by undercover companies which had been set up by government agencies.
A British associate of Mr Tappin who agreed to co-operate with US authorities was jailed for 24 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defence articles.
He provided customs agents with about 16,000 computer files and emails indicating that he and Mr Tappin had long-standing commercial ties with Iranian customers.
Mr Tappin's extradition is one of a number of recent cases that have fuelled controversy surrounding the UK-US extradition treaty.
Critics say the treaty makes the extradition of British nationals easier than extraditing US nationals to the UK because the US authorities have to produce less evidence to support their case than their British counterparts.
The US maintains that all extradition requests between the US and UK must meet the same evidentiary standard - probable cause.
All requests from the US must meet the standard of "reasonable suspicion" required under UK law, however, the US says, all requests from the US must also be based on a charging document that meets the "probable cause" standard required under US law.
The Briton's legal team have said their client was the victim of an abuse of power.
However, Home Secretary Theresa May and the British courts upheld the extradition request from US authorities concerning Mr Tappin.
And the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal in London found that it did not need to consider detailed arguments about US export rules because it was clear that the US had accused Mr Tappin of offences comparable to those found in English law.
It also dismissed Mr Tappin's allegations of entrapment and said it had to assume the US request had been made in good faith, unless there was particularly strong evidence to the contrary.
A review by senior judge Sir Scott Baker last year found the treaty was fair to British citizens.
Prior to his extradition, Mr Tappin had a very different life.
Golf is his great passion.
And, as the president of the Kent County Golf Union, he presided over all 95 golf clubs in Kent.
He shared his life with Elaine, his wife of more than 30 years.
Following the extradition decision, the couple had nine days together before Mr Tappin was flown to the US, leaving the couple facing what she described as a "wholly uncertain future".
In February, Mrs Tappin broke down while giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which was looking into the UK's extradition procedures.
She told MPs of her "heart-rending sadness, despair and utter disbelief" at the home secretary's decision to allow the extradition to go ahead.
"I cannot describe the utter desolation we both felt," she said, before she broke down, unable to finish her prepared statement.
'Fearing the future'
Mr Tappin used his house and car to raise funds for his legal costs in the US and the UK.
Neil Tappin, one of the couple's two children, said the situation had placed a great deal of strain on his mother, who has a chronic health problem.
"She's struggling, there's no two ways about it. We all are," he said.
"What unites us all at the moment is a sense that the extradition treaty has really let us down.
"Not a single shred of evidence has been given for or against this case in the UK. My father never left the UK in any of these dealings and yet he as been sent away. And that's the sense of injustice that's spurring us all on at the moment.
"When we get over that and the next stage begins, I think that is going to be the point at which the worry and a fear of the future will kick in."
What that future holds - be it a golf jacket or prison overalls - now lies in the hands of the US judicial system.