Published March 02, 2012
| Associated Press
EL PASO, Texas – A retired British businessman accused of trying to sell missile parts to Iran asked a federal judge in Texas on Friday to release him on bond, agreeing to comply with any measures the court deems fit to ensure he doesn't flee.
Christopher Tappin, 65, is accused of trying to buy specialized batteries for surface-to-air Hawk missiles for $25,000 from undercover American agents, with the intent to export them to Iran.
Federal judge Robert Castaneda is expected to announce his decision Monday.
Tappin was escorted into the courtroom wearing an orange-red prison jumpsuit, with his feet and one hand shackled. U.S. Marshals allowed the other hand to remain free so Tappin could use a cane he needs to walk.
The bond request was strongly opposed by assistant U.S. attorney Gregg McDonald, who asked the court to keep Tappin in federal custody for the remainder of the proceedings.
"The risk is not that he'll punch somebody in the face, but through the use of a computer and the knowledge he has, he might pose a danger to the community," McDonald said.
The prosecutor argued that Tappin has no ties to the U.S. and failed to disclose to court officials his frequent travels to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa. McDonald also said that Tappin continued to deal U.S. Technology to Iran even after he was indicted in 2007.
Ron Marcell, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testified that in July 2007 and April 2008, agents seized about $100,000 allegedly sent by Tappin and his freight company, Brooklands, for the purchase of a "clean room" of the sort used in electronics manufacturing and Yig Filters, electronic devices used in telecommunications that would be sent to Iran. Tappin never contested the seizing of the money, Marcell said.
He also stated that there is evidence indicating a prior sale of technology for about $2 million to the United Arab Emirates and then to Iran. He did not provide more details.
Attorney Kent Schaffer said if released, his client would wear a GPS tracking device, comply with any curfews the court sets, live in the house of one of his one lawyers in Houston and stay within a 5-mile radius of it at all times. Tappin's family is ready to post a $50,000 bond, he added.
"I don't want to use the word preposterous but the fact that he surrendered himself in Heathrow airport, went to the Otero (New Mexico) County jail facility, was brought in handcuffs to go through a detention hearing to go running back to England ... . It's not going to happen," Schaffer said.
Tappin was delivered to El Paso by U.S. Marshalls last week after fighting extradition from the U.K. for two years.
The investigation started in 2005, when federal agents reached out to technology providers in the U.S. asking about buyers who might have raised red flags. Those customers were then approached by undercover companies set up by federal agencies.
Over the course of the investigation, ICE agents arrested Gibson, an associate of Tappin who agreed to cooperate, and served 24 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defense articles. Gibson provided them with about 16,000 computer files and emails indicating that he and Tapping had long-standing commercial ties with Iranian customers.
Marcell said that when they told Tappin that the specialized missile batteries needed to be exported with a U.S. government license, he gave them with a false invoice stating that the batteries were for other purposes. The invoice given by Tappin had a signature that he claimed was Gibson's, who at the time was in federal custody.
Another man, Robert Caldwell, was found guilty of aiding and abetting the illegal transport of defense articles and served 20 months in prison.
Tappin's case sparked a debate in the U.K. over whether British and American citizens are treated equally under the extradition treaty between the two countries.
British Attorney General Dominic Grieve told a parliamentary committee that the question of the treaty's fairness was "one of the more difficult questions that this government has to answer."
Grieve's ruling Tory party criticized the extradition treaty when it was in opposition, but has since made little move to alter the deal. He told lawmakers that some of the outrage being kicked up over Tappin's case might be down to "his respectability and his age."
"I have seen nothing to suggest to me that he did not have a full judicial scrutiny," Grieve said.