EL PASO, Texas – A retired British businessman accused of plotting to sell missile components to Iran headed to the United States Friday to face charges after failing to overturn an extradition order.
Christopher Tappin faces charges in El Paso, Texas, that he tried in 2006 to buy specialized batteries for Hawk missiles for $25,000 from undercover American agents with the intention of exporting them to Iran.
The 65-year-old Tappin faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. He fought extradition for two years until last month when he was denied a petition to take the case to Britain's Supreme Court.
A subsequent appeal to the European Human Rights Court was also rejected.
Tappin denies any wrongdoing, saying he was the victim of a sting operation.
The order to deport Tappin sparked a debate in the U.K., where critics claim the country's extradition treaty with the U.S. does not provide equal protection for British and American citizens.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to carefully review the treaty and a recent independent study on its balance. That report, conducted by Lord Justice Scott Baker, largely endorsed the treaty and the overhaul demanded by many of the deal's critics doesn't appear to be in the cards.
U.S. Marshalls took Tappin into custody Friday morning at London's Heathrow Airport. He complained to reporters that he was receiving harsher treatment than Abu Qatada, a radical, Jordanian-born cleric accused of ties to al-Qaida who recently received bail in London.
"I have no rights," Tappin said as his wife looked on in tears. "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."
He was expected to arrive in Texas on Friday afternoon.
Tappin's attorney, Houston based attorney Dan Cogdell said he will aggressively seek bond.
"He is not a flight risk, not a terrorist, not a danger," Cogdell said. He declined to comment further.
Tappin was accused in a 2007 three-count indictment of scheming to export the batteries to the U.K. without a license. Court documents show that a cooperating defendant provided computer files that demonstrate Tappin intended to then send the batteries to a Tehran-based company and that he and the cooperating defendant had illegally sold U.S. technology to Iran in the past.
Two other men have already been sentenced to prison times for charges stemming from the indictment. Robert Gibson, another British national, pleaded guilty in April 2007 and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Robert Caldwell, from Oregon, was found guilty in July of that year and received a 20 month sentence.