Christopher Tappin pleads guilty over weapons charges

Christopher Tappin Christopher Tappin was extradited to the US in February

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A retired businessman from south-east London has pleaded guilty in a US court to selling parts for surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

Christopher Tappin, 66, made the plea at a hearing in El Paso, Texas, in an agreement with US prosecutors and is due to be sentenced on 9 January.

His plea calls for a 33-month sentence which prosecutors have said they would not oppose him serving in the UK.

His wife said it was the "beginning of the end" of the family's ordeal.

'Back on home soil'

Tappin, from Orpington, has been on bail since being extradited to the US in February.

After the hearing his wife Elaine, 62, 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.

"It has been a very difficult time for us all and one that would have been infinitely harder had we not received such warm support from friends and strangers alike.

Chris and Elaine Tappin Mr and Mrs Tappin have been married for more than 30 years

"For that I shall always remain extremely grateful."

Tappin is the principal carer for his wife of 30 years, who has the chronic lung condition Churg-Strauss syndrome.

The former president of the Kent Golf Union and former director of Surrey-based Brooklands International Freight Services previously denied attempting to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles that were to be shipped from the US to Tehran via the Netherlands, saying he was the victim of an FBI sting.

He had pleaded not guilty but changed his plea earlier in an agreement with US prosecutors.

Tappin had faced up to 35 years in jail.

The case followed an investigation, which began in 2005 when US agents asked technology providers about buyers who might have caused suspicion.

Those customers were then approached by undercover companies set up by government agencies.

'Jury and executioner'

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 customs 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.

Plea bargaining is common in the US, with defendants often able to secure a more lenient sentence if they admit an offence and co-operate with prosecutors, rather than contest the charges in a trial.

But other extradited Britons - including so-called NatWest Three banker David Bermingham, who was jailed for 37 months over an Enron-related fraud in a plea deal four years ago - have claimed the system empowers prosecutors as "judge, jury and executioner".

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