Retired British businessman fights US allegations over Iran

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A retired British businessman facing up to 35 years in a US prison if convicted of selling equipment for missile systems to Iran said on Tuesday he was unwittingly caught up in a US customs sting.

Christopher Tappin, 63, strongly rejected the allegations filed by US prosecutors, arguing that he was unaware that batteries he sourced in the United States were destined for the Islamic republic.

Tappin faces an extradition hearing in two weeks which will decide if he will be sent to the United States to face charges.

"Even though I am certain I did nothing wrong I would be happy to face trial in the United Kingdom and not the USA," he told a press conference in London.

"I live here with my family and the alleged crimes were committed here.

"My wife suffers from Churg-Strauss syndrome, which is a very serious condition and she needs my constant support and attention."

It is alleged he sold batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Iran. The batteries were sourced in the United States.

Tappin said: "I was the victim of the unlawful conduct of US agents who pretended to belong to a false company, known as Mercury Global Enterprises. It exists solely to ensnare unsuspecting importers.

"When negotiating with me, and when I raised my concerns about the licence agreement they assured me that 'this would not be a problem'.

"However the same agents have been relied upon to accuse me of being responsible for not obtaining the licences.

"They misled me by sending me paperwork which clearly stated 'no license required'."

Tappin is represented by the same lawyer as Gary McKinnon, a British man who faces being extradited to the US over allegations he hacked into Pentagon computers.

A spokesman for the lawyer's office, Ben Seifert, said that if Tappin must face trial the case should be heard in Britain where the alleged crimes were committed.

Tappin believed the batteries were for use in the automotive industry, the spokesman added.

"He never knew they were anything to do with Iran or anything to do with missiles.... He assumed that these batteries were for perfectly peaceful and non-military needs."

British lawyers complain that the US is not required to offer any substantial proof of an allegation when seeking the extradition of a suspect from Britain to stand trial.

© 2010 AFP

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