British arms-to-Iran suspect plans to seek release

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By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA, Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A retired British businessman whose extradition to the U.S. to face allegations he tried to sell missile batteries to Iran caused an uproar in his home country will seek his release on bond Friday.

Christopher Tappin, 65, faces charges in El Paso that he tried to buy specialized batteries for Hawk missiles for $25,000 from undercover American agents with the intention of exporting them to Iran. Two other men have already been convicted in the case.

Tappin's U.S. attorney Dennis Hester said he will request that U.S. Magistrate Judge David Guaderrama free his client on bond during a Friday hearing.

"The only factor (against that happening) is that he doesn't have many ties to the U.S," Hester said Tuesday.

But the lawyer said he hopes the judge will take into consideration the fact that Tappin surrendered to U.S. Marshals and complied with the conditions of release set by British authorities.

Tappin had chains and shackles on his hands and feet during Tuesday's hearing, as is customary in federal court, his lawyer said.

"He was calm, in good spirits, considering everything that he's been through," Hester said.

Tappin turned himself in Friday after fighting extradition from the United Kingdom for two years and was brought to El Paso by federal agents. His case has touched a nerve in Britain, where many believe the fast-track extradition arrangements between the U.K. and the U.S. are unfairly weighted in Washington's favor.

He is currently being held at the Otero county jail in New Mexico, some 90 miles north of El Paso. He was put in solitary confinement at his own request, Hester said.

Tappin's wife, Elaine, testified Tuesday at a British parliamentary hearing, breaking down in tears and saying no one was prepared to listen to her husband's defense before "carting him off" to the United States.

British Attorney General Dominic Grieve told the same 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.

A three-count, federal indictment filed in 2007 says a cooperating defendant provided computer files showing Tappin intended to send the missile batteries to a Tehran-based company and that he and the cooperating defendant had illegally sold U.S. technology to Iran in the past.

The two men already convicted in the case are Robert Gibson, another British national who pleaded guilty in April 2007 and was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Robert Caldwell, an Oregon man who was found guilty in July of that year and sentenced to 20 months.

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Associated Press Writer Raphael Satter contributed to this report from London.

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