Thursday, January 10, 2013

Former golf club president Christopher Tappin JAILED for 33 months in Pennsylvania prison for plot to export missile parts to Iran

A typical extorted guilty plea. He is almost certainly innocent

A retired British businessman who fought a long battle against extradition has been jailed for 33 months for smuggling arms to Iran by a court in the US. Christopher Tappin, 65, pleaded guilty to selling missile batteries in return for a reduced sentence at the trial in El Paso, Texas.

He is likely to spend six to nine months in the US before being sent back to Britain to complete his sentence, his lawyer said.

In a statement, Tappin apologised for his actions and said he looks forward to returning home to be near his sick wife.

Tappin, from Orpington, Kent, will begin his sentence at Allenwood prison in Pennsylvania, to start by March 8.

He had fought a two-year battle against extradition after originally denying the charge. But in November he pleaded guilty to charges of arms dealing at a court in El Paso.

The plea bargain meant Tappin escaped a possible sentence of 35 years in prison.

Tappin, a former president of the Kent Golf Union, was also fined £7,095.

US District Judge David Briones told a court hearing that Tappin should be allowed to serve his sentence in the UK but the decision ultimately rests with the US Bureau of Prisons.

His lawyer said it would be several months before he could be repatriated. 'The prison system moves incredibly slow, so he will be there for several months,' said a source at the US Justice Department.

His wife Elaine Tappin said she hoped the jailed businessman would have 'the mental fortitude to cope with whatever lies before him in the months and years to come'.

Mrs Tappin, who is seriously ill with chronic Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare auto-immune disease, was unable to attend the hearing.

Following the sentencing, she said: 'Now I can begin to see light at the end of this long dark tunnel - but remain frustrated that Chris' extradition was granted in the first place.

'Being returned to a US prison will be dreadful for him. He is learning to live with the regrets - it is a chastening experience after a 45-year unblemished business career.'

The couple have been married for 38 years and have a son and daughter. Mrs Tappin added: 'I pray that the US and UK authorities between them will expedite Chris' repatriation to Britain - so we, and his friends, are able to visit him in prison.'

She vowed to lobby the Government to change the law in favour of domestic prosecution over extradition, saying that she has been 'dismayed' by the current system.

She added: 'The cost is too often either unnecessary, disproportionate, or both. We cannot change what has happened to Chris, nor to those who have gone before him, but we can take steps to stop unwarranted extradition being imposed on others.

Tappin previously denied attempting to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles which were to be shipped from the US to Tehran via the Netherlands and claimed he was part of an FBI sting.

Before the 'plea bargain', he faced the prospect of 35 years behind bars in a high-security prison, and no prospect of return to the UK to serve his sentence.

His lawyer in the UK previously indicated her client had little choice but to accept a deal.

Karen Todner, who also represented computer hacker Gary McKinnon, said: ‘The odds are so heavily stacked against a defendant who chooses to plead not guilty and then is subsequently found guilty that the vast majority of people facing trial in the US opt to take a plea agreement.’

The case followed an investigation which began in 2005 when US agents asked technology providers about buyers who might have raised red flags. Those customers were then approached by undercover companies set up by government agencies.

Tappin admitted that between December 2005 and January 2007 he knowingly aided and abetted others in an illegal attempt to export oxide reserve batteries, a special component of the Hawk Air Defence Missile, to Iran.

By pleading guilty, he waived his right to appeal against his conviction or challenge the sentence handed down in this case.

His associates Briton Robert Gibson agreed to co-operate and was jailed for two years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defence articles.

He also provided customs agents with about 16,000 computer files and emails indicating that he and Tappin had long-standing commercial ties with Iranian customers. Their US contact, Robert Caldwell, served 20 months in prison.

Tappin was held in prison for two months following his extradition in February, and then granted $1million (£650,000) bail.

Tappin dealt with a front firm called Mercury Global Enterprise, but claimed the batteries, worth around £5,000 each, were going to be used in the car industry.

Other Britons who have been extradited have condemned the US plea-bargaining system for allowing prosecutors to act as ‘judge, jury and executioner’.

Original report here

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