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Christopher Tappin pleads guilty to selling missile components to Iran

Christopher Tappin at Heathrow police station, where he was handed over to US marshals and taken to America in February Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

British businessman Christopher Tappin has pleaded guilty to selling surface-to-air missile parts to Iran, at a court hearing in El Paso, Texas.

Christopher Tappin, 66, of Orpington, Kent, had pleaded not guilty but changed his plea at a hearing in El Paso, Texas, after an agreement with US prosecutors.

His guilty plea, to one count of the indictment, calls for a 33-month sentence which prosecutors have said they will not oppose him serving back in the UK.

Christopher Tappin, with his wife Elaine at Heathrow police station, where he was handed over to US marshals in February Credit: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

Christopher Tappin will be sentenced on 9th of January. In addition to the prison term of 33 months Tappin's plea deal includes a fine of $11,357.14 - the projected profit he stood to gain if his illegal activity had been brought to fruition.

He was originally thought to have faced up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

His wife Elaine, 62, said ahead of today's hearing that "however upsetting" a plea deal was, it marked the beginning of his "swift and safe return" to the UK.

My overwhelming feeling remains one of anxiety and sadness.However at last I dare hope that Chris will be back on home soil next year.

I feel we are getting to the beginning of the end.It has been a very difficult time for us all and one that would have been infinitely harder had we not received such warm support from friends and strangers alike.

For that I shall always remain extremely grateful.

– Elaine Tappin

The 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.

Tappin has admitted that between December 2005 and January 2007 he knowingly aided and abetted others in an illegal attempt to export zinc/silver oxide reserve batteries, a special component of the Hawk Air Defence Missile, to Iran.

Tappin timeline:

  • 2010

May 12 - Christopher Tappin is arrested at his home in Orpington, Kent, over claims that he sold batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Tehran.

August 17 - Tappin denies the allegations, telling a press conference in central London he was the victim of entrapment by American agents.

September 2 - Tappin's lawyer, Ben Cooper, tells City of Westminster magistrates that US agents sought to entrap his client with lies, deceit and false assurances, and that without their proactive pursuit of Tappin there would have been no offence.

  • 2011

February 11 - Tappin vows to appeal to Britain's highest court after District Judge John Zani rules he can be extradited to America, where he faces up to 35 years in jail.

June 22 - MPs and peers on the Joint Committee on Human Rights call for the Government to renegotiate the UK's extradition treaty with the US to ensure British citizens get the same protection as Americans.

October 18 - Campaigners are left baffled and angry by the long-awaited review of extradition arrangements by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker after he finds the current UK-US treaty is both balanced and fair.

  • 2012

January 13 - Tappin loses his High Court battle against extradition when two judges sitting in London rule that the entrapment argument is "unsustainable" and it would not be "oppressive" to extradite him.

January 31 - Tappin's bid to take his case to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, fails when High Court judges Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cranston refuse to certify that the case raised legal issues of general importance.

His lawyers make a last-ditch plea to the European Court of Human Rights to block the extradition.

February 13 - Tappin's application to the human rights judges for "Rule 39" relief staying his removal pending a further hearing of his case in Europe is rejected by the Strasbourg-based court.

February 22 - Asked about Tappin's case in the House of Commons, David Cameron says the Government will carry out a "proper, sober and thoughtful" review of the UK's extradition arrangements with the US.

But the Prime Minister adds: "Of course, balancing these arrangements is absolutely vital but I think it is important that at the same time we remember why we enter into these extradition treaties, which is to show respect to each other's judicial processes and make sure that people who are accused of crimes are tried for those crimes. Britain can benefit from that as well."

February 24 - Tappin is extradited to America, branding the decision a "disgrace" and claiming that Jordanian terror suspect Abu Qatada, who is fighting against deportation, has more rights than him.

February 28 - Tappin's wife, Elaine, breaks down in tears as she tells MPs of her despair that nobody was prepared to listen to his defence before "carting him off".

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC says Tappin's case highlights problems with the extradition treaty between the UK and the US which are not "readily curable".

Britons were left uneasy when faced with the seemingly harsh and disproportionate sentences in the American justice system, he says.

March 14 - Neil Tappin urges the Prime Minister to intervene in his father's case as Mr Cameron visits the US for three days of talks with President Barack Obama.

April 25 - Tappin is freed on bail, but told he must remain in Texas, after his family pays $50,000 (£31,000) of a one million-dollar (£620,000) bond.

October 26 - Elaine Tappin confirms her husband will enter into a deal with US prosecutors, saying "however upsetting" the plea bargain was, it marked the beginning of his "swift and safe return" to the UK.

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