Briton faces trial in U.S. for arms sale

Feb. 14, 2011 at 9:54 AM
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LONDON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A retired British businessman may face extradition to the United States on charges of conspiring to sell weapons parts to Iran.

The businessman denied accusations that he tried to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Iran. Under the charges, Christopher Tappin allegedly attempted to sell the parts in a deal that would have had the batteries shipped from the United States to Tehran via the Netherlands.

Tappin denies the allegations and contends he is the target of entrapment by U.S. officials.

Tappin is also accused of attempting to conduct financial transactions "from the outside to a place inside the United States with the intent to promote the execution of an unlawful activity."

The alleged offenses occurred 2005-07, according to legal documents leaked to the British media.

Exporting defense articles without a license or approval from the authorities is a criminal offense in Britain.

A district judge in the Westminster Magistrates Court has ruled that the extradition process could proceed and released Tappin on conditional bail. If extradited to the United States, Tappin could face up to 35 years in prison.

Tappin, embroiled in long-running legal battles, has countered the ruling arguing, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper that the judge was "not being strong enough to take a stance against the Americans." He said he would appeal to Britain's High Court.

"There remains clear evidence of fraud, which they have tried to cover up by implicating myself and other by means of skullduggery and misleading statements," Tappin told media after the ruling, accusing U.S. agents of trying to entrap him.

"I look forward to winning the new round of this intriguing case. I am sure that justice will eventually prevail, preferably British justice."

Tappin, who was a director of Brooklands International Freight Services in Surrey, was arrested last August following a raid on his home in southeast London.

At a news conference shortly after the raid he argued that he had arranged a shipment of batteries to be ferried from the United States to the Netherlands at the end of 2006. He claimed he had no knowledge that they were bound for Iran.

Tappin said a business contact suggested a particular U.S. company to handle the paperwork on the deal. When he proceeded, the firm turned out to be a dummy company set up by U.S. customs officials with the intent of ensnaring suspicious exporters, which Tappin claimed he wasn't.

The businessman has been fighting extradition since the beginning of last year. He claimed initially that the five missile batteries were thought to have been intended for use in the car industry.

They actually proved to be Eagle Pitcher brand batteries, a key component of the U.S. Army's Hawk Air Defense Missile system, which were being sought by Iran, the Telegraph reported.

The United States has been spearheading international pressure against Iran because of a nuclear program which Washington believes isn't intended solely for civilian purposes.

Last year, for example, Russia responded to international pressure and scrapped a much-vaunted missile deal to the Islamic Republic for fear that the technology could be reverse engineered and used as an offensive weapons.

The United States and Israel haven't ruled out the option of military strike against Iran to deter the development of its nuclear program.

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