EL PASO, Texas - A British man accused of trying to buy missile parts from undercover American agents and resell them to Iran pleaded guilty Thursday in a deal that would carry nearly three years in prison but could allow him to serve much of that time in his native United Kingdom.
Christopher Tappin, 66, had faced charges of conspiracy to illegally export defence articles, aiding and abetting the illegal export of defence articles and conspiracy to conduct illegal financial transactions.
He pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment Thursday in a hearing in El Paso. The deal calls for 33 months in prison, but as part of the agreement, prosecutors have agreed not to oppose his request to be transferred back to his home country.
U.S. District Judge David Briones will decide Tappin's sentence Jan. 9.
The retired British businessman has been living in an upscale Houston neighbourhood since his release on a $1 million bond in April.
The federal indictment filed in 2007 said a co-operating defendant provided computer files showing Tappin intended to send surface-to-air-missile batteries to a Tehran-based company and that he and the co-operating defendant had illegally sold U.S. technology to Iran in the past.
The U.S. government alleged Tappin provided undercover agents with false documents to deceive authorities and circumvent the requirement for the batteries to be licensed by the government before being exported.
Tappin's extradition in February touched a nerve in Britain, where many contend the fast-track extradition arrangements between the U.K. and the U.S. are unfairly weighted in Washington's favour.
But Tappin's attorney, Dan Cogdell, said on Thursday that he didn't see much room for argument.
"He pled guilty because he was guilty," Cogdell said.
Tappin remained free on bond pending his sentencing. Cogdell said he expected Tappin to serve several months in a U.S. prison while authorities in Washington and the United Kingdom decide whether to extradite him.
Tappin fought extradition to the United States for two years until being denied a petition to take the case to Britain's Supreme Court. After he was brought to Texas, Tappin was held at the Otero County Jail for about two months, where he initially was put in solitary confinement at his request.
Two men have already been sentenced to prison for charges stemming from the indictment. Robert Gibson, another British national, pleaded guilty in April 2007 and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Robert Caldwell, from Oregon, was found guilty in July of that year and received a 20-month sentence.