GATWICK AIRPORT – Three former NatWest bankers left Britain on a flight to Houston on Thursday after surrendering to U.S. marshals for extradition to face fraud charges relating to collapsed energy company Enron.
The bankers left on a Continental Airlines flight from Gatwick Airport, south of London, their spokeswoman said.
David Bermingham, one of the three, who traveled to Croydon police station with his wife Emma, told reporters earlier: "It's a sad day for you guys. I expect most of you are British, so you got let down today by your own government."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected pleas to halt their extradition, while in a new twist to the saga, police investigated the death of a man reported by media to have been a former colleague of the men who was questioned in the case.
"A man died yesterday. I'll be coming home one day; he won't. Let's get some perspective," Bermingham said.
The extradition of the three — Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew — is the first high-profile case under a new extradition treaty with the United States in force since January 2004. It was designed to speed up extradition of terror suspects, but now the United States, which has yet to ratify the treaty, is being accused of using it for white-collar crime.
The three men, who worked for NatWest Bank, now part of Royal Bank of Scotland, are alleged to have conspired with Enron executives including former Finance Director Andrew Fastow over the sale of a stake in an Enron entity in 2000 for less than it was worth, which made them $7.3 million.
They deny the allegations. They sought to have their case heard in Britain rather than the United States, but no legal proceedings have been launched against them in the UK.
Parliament held a rare emergency debate on Wednesday, in which some members from Blair's Labour Party joined opposition politicians in attacking the new treaty as unfair and lopsided.
Blair, while strongly defending the extradition treaty, earlier tried to placate members of parliament by telling them Washington had given assurances U.S. prosecutors would not oppose bail for the three.
Bermingham said the three were hopeful about prospects for bail, which will be considered at a hearing scheduled for Friday in Houston. They have said they will seek bail terms that would allow them to return to Britain to prepare their cases.
"We are optimistic. We are hopeful we will get bail," he said.
Bermingham's wife Emma, speaking to reporters after leaving the police station, said: "I think these guys here have been totally let down. We've been hoping all the way along that someone would take this to court in England."
When asked how she felt, Bermingham's wife said, "Sad, sad to be British."
Mark Spragg, a lawyer to the bankers who was at the police station, said the three could not fund a proper defense in America, because all their money and property would be needed as security for bail.
Spragg said he was putting pressure on the UK Serious Fraud Office to obtain documents from Royal Bank of Scotland that could be used in the case.
The affair took a dramatic twist on Wednesday with the discovery of a body that media reports said was that of a missing man who had been questioned by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about the case.
A police spokesman said the body was found in east London on Tuesday, and police were working to confirm the man's identity.
News reports said it was Neil Coulbeck, missing from his nearby home since last Thursday.
Without confirming the dead man's identity, RBS said the bank had employed Coulbeck until 2004. "There is no evidence that Neil was involved in the approval of the transaction under investigation," the bank said.
Shortly after the three arrived at the police station, they were driven in a van to the airport accompanied by the marshals.