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Christopher Tappin sentenced to 33 months in jail by US court for Iran arms deal

By Cahal Milmo

A retired British businessman who was yesterday sentenced to 33 months in a US prison for arms dealing offences faces a wait of months before learning when he can return to serve his sentence in Britain.

Christopher Tappin, 66, a grandfather who was president of the Kent County Golf Union until his extradition to Texas last year, struck a plea bargain with American prosecutors last year over allegations that he sold air defence missile batteries that he believed were destined for Iran.

The former shipping agent fought a long battle against extradition to the United States after saying he had fallen foul of a sting operation by American customs investigators, who set up a front company to entice Tappin and his business partners into attempting to sell material to Tehran.

At a brief court hearing in El Paso yesterday, Tappin, who pleaded guilty last year to a single count of aiding and abetting the illegal export of defence articles, had his plea deal with the US authorities formally approved and must now report to a state penitentiary in Pennsylvania before 8 March.

Prosecutors said last November that they had no objection to Tappin, who was also fined $11,357 (£7,044), serving his sentence in a British jail.

But the Briton, whose wife of 30 years, Elaine, suffers from a debilitating illness, will only be able to start the process of seeking a transfer to the UK once he enters the US prison system and it is likely to be several months before the process is complete.

Speaking after her husband's sentencing, Mrs Tappin said: "Under the circumstances, I fully understand and support Chris' plea. Now I can begin to see light at the end of this long dark tunnel - but remain frustrated that Chris' extradition was granted in the first place."

The father-of-two, who is selling his house on a gated estate in Orpington, Kent, to pay for his legal fees, will now swap the apartment where he has been staying in a Houston suburb since he was granted bail last April after two months on remand for a state prison.

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