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Missile parts for Iran? British man faces charges in Texas

February 27, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Retired British businessman Christopher Tappin, 65, awaits a flight at London's Heathrow Airport on Friday. Tappin, who is accused by U.S. authorities of plotting to sell missile components to Iran, was being transfered to U.S. custody and extradited to face charges in El Paso.
Retired British businessman Christopher Tappin, 65, awaits a flight at…

Reporting from Houston — This post has been updated. See note at the bottom for details. 

A retired British businessman was expected to make his first appearance in a federal court in El Paso on Monday after he was extradited last week on charges that he tried to sell missile batteries to Iran in 2006.

Christopher Tappin, 65, turned himself in Friday after fighting extradition for two years and was taken to El Paso by federal marshals. Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, told The Times that Tappin was scheduled to have an initial hearing on Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Castañeda.

Tappin, who lives in the London suburb of Orpington, faces charges that he tried to buy batteries for Hawk missiles from an undercover U.S. agent for export to Iran. An El Paso grand jury indicted Tappin in 2007 on suspicion of scheming to export the batteries to the U.K.without a license, aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles and conspiring to conduct illegal financial transactions.

The indictment charges that Tappin and two other suspects contacted a dummy company, Mercury Global Enterprises, which was set up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Tappin asked about the batteries and contacted an undercover ICE agent based in El Paso about buying five, according to the El Paso Times.

Tappin allegedly purchased the batteries in 2006, wiring about $25,000 from a financial institution in London to a U.S. bank as payment, and apparently intended to send the batteries to a Tehran-based company, according to computer records cited in the court documents.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.

Tappin has denied the charges, insisting he was the victim of an FBI sting. When taken into custody at London's Heathrow Airport on Friday, Tappin complained to reporters of unfair treatment at the hands of U.S. officials, noting that Abu Qatada, a radical Jordanian cleric accused of ties to Al Qaeda, recently received bail in London.

"I have no rights," Tappin told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "Abu Qatada is walking the streets of London today and we cannot extradite him. He has more rights than I have. If I was a terrorist, I would not be going to America. I think it's a shame, a disgrace."

Tappin had appealed his extradition, but his appeal was denied last month. He was expected to make an initial court appearance Monday, staff at his lawyer’s office told The Times.

Tappin’s deportation sparked a debate in the U.K.over whether British and American citizens are treated equally under the two countries' extradition treaty. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that Tappin’s extradition was in line with theU.K.-U.S. extradition treaty.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Tappin's case had been thoroughly investigated by his administration but that they were also reviewing findings of his extradition review last year, according to the BBC.

The European Court of Human Rights has so far refused to intervene in the case. In 2007, two other men were sentenced in connection with the plot to 20 and 24 months in federal prison. Tappin’s attorney, Dan Cogdell, was out of state Monday on business and had another lawyer represent Tappin at the hearing, staff said. He could not be reached for comment.

Cogdell earlier told the Associated Press he plans to try to persuade a judge to release Tappin on bail at a future hearing. "He is not a flight risk, not a terrorist, not a danger," Cogdell told the El Paso Times.

[Updated, 4:45 p.m., Feb. 27: Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, western district of Texas, told The Times that Tappin's first court appearance was postponed and rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon.]

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