Extradited Businessman Plea Deal

A plea deal between extradited Briton Christopher Tappin, from Orpington, and US prosecutors is the beginning of his "swift and safe return'' to the UK, his wife has said.

The retired British businessman is expected to reach a deal with prosecutors on Thursday over charges of conspiring to sell batteries for Iranian missiles.

His wife Elaine, who has chronic Churg-Strauss syndrome, said: "From the moment Chris was put on a plane all we ever wanted was his swift and safe return.

"However upsetting, this is the beginning of that process. It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst the Court has yet to establish Chris' fate.''

Tappin, 65, of Orpington, Kent, is on bail and will appear in court in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday to hear prosecutors set out the terms of his plea bargain, a family spokeswoman said.

If the terms are agreed by senior US district judge David Briones, it is likely to be several weeks before he is sentenced. He faces up to 35 years in jail, but this is likely to be significantly reduced under the terms of any plea deal.

No details of the terms have been released, but other Britons who have been extradited said they had no chance of being cleared once sent to the US as the plea bargaining system empowers prosecutors as "judge, jury and executioner''.

Tappin's case followed an investigation which started in 2005 when US agents asked technology providers about buyers who might have raised red flags. Those customers were then approached by undercover companies set up by government agencies.

Briton Robert Gibson, an associate of Tappin who agreed to co-operate, was jailed for 24 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export defence articles.

American Robert Caldwell was also found guilty of aiding and abetting the illegal transport of defence articles and served 20 months in prison.