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Agents 'lied to entrap businessman'

US agents "overstepped the mark of legitimate law enforcement" to entrap a retired British businessman who now faces extradition to the US accused of conspiring to sell parts for Iranian missiles, a court has heard.

Christopher Tappin, from Orpington, south-east London, denies he attempted to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles which were to be shipped from the US to Tehran via the Netherlands. If convicted, the 63-year-old could face 35 years in an American jail.

City of Westminster Magistrates' Court heard US agents sought to entrap the businessman with lies, deceit and false assurances, and that without their proactive pursuit of Mr Tappin there would have been no offence.

Ben Cooper, defending, said the agents "overstepped the mark of legitimate law enforcement conduct" and effectively "caused the offence to be committed".

He told the court: "Mr Tappin fully denies the allegations. He also contends that he was the victim of the unlawful conduct of US agents who pretended to belong to a company known as Mercury Global Enterprises."

Mr Cooper said the agents acted in a "thoroughly disreputable and dishonest manner" by telling him his business associate Robert Gibson had been involved in a car crash, when he had in fact been arrested.

He said the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were "proactively engaging and creating an offence" and "crossed the line of what might be deemed acceptable law enforcement". The court heard agents made "aggressive and pestering" phone calls to Mr Tappin asking for money to be transferred and were "proactively deceitful".

Aaron Watkins, representing the US authorities, said the allegation of dishonesty against Mr Tappin was sufficient for extradition to proceed. He said: "If he is conspiring with others, albeit others that are law enforcement officers, if he forms a dishonest intent, that's the end of the matter."

District Judge John Zani adjourned the case to November 4 some time after which a decision will be made on whether he will be sent to the US.

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