A South African man accused of threatening biological attacks against Britain was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for extortion but escaped terrorism charges in a plea deal.
Brian Patrick Roach was initially charged with terrorism for sending messages to British authorities threatening to unleash foot-and-mouth disease in Britain and the United States unless he was paid $4 million (three million euros).
Under a plea deal struck with prosecutors, he was handed a 12-year sentence for attempted extortion Thursday, but will serve only five years, with the other seven suspended, the Sapa news agency reported.
Magistrate Renier Boshoff told Roach he was lucky to have received only five years.
“Your age definitely played a role,” he told the 64-year-old businessman. “In many ways you can count yourself fortunate.”
Prosecutors said Roach sent a series of letters and emails to Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs threatening to devastate the British and US beef industries with foot-and-mouth disease.
The messages, which were presented in court, blamed the two countries for failing to protect white property owners in Zimbabwe who lost their farms under a land reform programme promoted by President Robert Mugabe, whom the messages called “the tyrant from hell.”
But prosecutors say Roach in fact had no business links to Zimbabwe and had never farmed there.
Roach was arrested in February near the small resort town of Hartbeespoort in South Africa’s North West province after a six-month investigation by South African and British police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.