Christopher Tappin sentenced to 33 months in US arms case

Christopher Tappin says he is looking forward to returning to the UK

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A retired British businessman who admitted selling weapon parts to Iran has been sentenced to 33 months in prison by a court in the US.

Christopher Tappin, who was extradited from the UK last February, reached a deal with US prosecutors which led to him pleading guilty in November.

Tappin, 66, of south-east London, could have faced being jailed for 35 years.

At Tuesday's hearing in El Paso, Texas, Judge David Briones recommended he be allowed to serve his time in the UK.

The final decision on whether Tappin can return to the UK to serve his sentence rests with the US Bureau of Prisons, a court spokeswoman said.

Tappin, from Orpington, must turn himself in to start his sentence at the Allenwood prison in Pennsylvania by 8 March.

Parole hopes

Speaking to journalists as he left court, Tappin said: "I have accepted the plea agreement offered by the US government and confirmed by the court today.

"As part of the agreement both the US government and the British government have promised to actively support my repatriation to Britain at the earliest opportunity.

"I look forward to returning home to be near my friends and family, and especially my sick wife."

Dan Cogdell, Tappin's lawyer, told the BBC his client was not in custody yet but was returning to his apartment in Houston.

Chris and Elaine Tappin Tappin's wife Elaine was unable to attend the court hearing

He said Tappin would report for his sentence in about 60 days and that he wanted to be repatriated.

"He wants to be in Allenwood, Pennsylvania - that's the quickest way back to the UK," Mr Cogdell said.

"If all goes as planned he will be in Allenwood for approximately four months.

"And then once he gets repatriated back to the UK, once he gets transferred back there, we hope he'll get paroled almost immediately once he's in the UK."

The retired businessman, who pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the illegal export of defence articles, was also ordered to pay a fine of $11,357.14 (about £7,100).

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

Following the sentencing Tappin's wife, Elaine, said she hoped he would have "the mental fortitude to cope with whatever lies before him in the months and years to come".

Mrs Tappin, who suffers from the chronic illness Churg-Strauss syndrome, was unable to attend the court hearing.

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

'FBI sting'

Mrs Tappin added: "Having seen first hand how the Extradition Act works in practice, I'm dismayed by the damage inflicted on defendants and those close to them.

"The cost is too often either unnecessary, disproportionate, or both.

Start Quote

Now I can begin to see light at the end of this long dark tunnel, but remain frustrated that Chris's extradition was granted in the first place”

End Quote Elaine Tappin

"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."

A Home Office spokesman said it was "in the overwhelming public interest" that extradition arrangements functioned properly.

"They must also be fair," he said.

"We must balance both strong safeguards for those accused of cross-border crimes, with assurance that justice will be done.

"A key reason for the loss of public and parliamentary confidence in our extradition arrangements has been the perceived lack of transparency in the process; that is why we announced in October we would be introducing a forum bar as soon as parliamentary time allows."

Home Secretary Theresa May wants to see a new "forum bar" that would allow judges to block some extraditions in cases where the UK is seen as the most appropriate location for a trial.

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

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.

Robert Gibson, a British 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 he and Tappin had long-standing commercial ties with Iranian customers.

American Robert Caldwell was found guilty of aiding and abetting the illegal transport of defence articles and served 20 months in prison.

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