British man sentenced in El Paso federal court to 33 months for weapons-to-Iran plot

EL PASO, Texas - A federal judge sentenced a British businessman to nearly three years in prison Wednesday for trying to buy surface-to-air missile parts from undercover U.S. agents to resell to Iran.

Christopher Tappin, 65, pleaded guilty in November in a deal that opened the door for him to serve part of his sentence in Britain near his ailing wife. Tappin's attorney, Dan Cogdell, explained at the time that Tappin "regrets his conduct, he regrets the time away from his family, he regrets the notoriety."

The plea agreement stated that prosecutors would not oppose any request by Tappin to serve part of his sentence in Britain. U.S. District Judge David Briones in El Paso, who sentenced Tappin to two years and nine months in prison, said he would recommend that the U.S. Department of Justice approve any request by Tappin to be transferred to the United Kingdom.

The British government also would have to allow Tappin to serve time in one of its prisons. Tappin's lawyer anticipated that his client might spend several months in a U.S. prison before that process is completed.

In 2006, Tappin associate Robert Gibson contacted a company set up by undercover U.S. agents to buy batteries for surface-to-air missiles. U.S. authorities alleged Tappin provided undercover agents with false documents to deceive authorities and circumvent the requirement for the batteries to be licensed by the U.S. government before being exported.

Two men have already been sentenced to prison for charges stemming from the indictment. 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.

Tappin fought extradition to the United States for two years until being denied a petition to take the case to Britain's Supreme Court. His extradition touched a nerve in Britain among those who believe extradition arrangements with the United States are unfairly weighted against British citizens.

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. Tappin was later released on bond and has since lived near his lawyer's house in a gated community in Houston.

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