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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
UK bankers face Enron extradition
David Bermingham
Mr Bermingham urged the US to drop its extradition demands
A judge has ruled that three British bankers can be extradited to the United States to face fraud charges.

They worked for NatWest, and were involved in a complicated deal with the failed American energy company, Enron, which made them several million pounds.

The men insist they did nothing illegal - and that if they're to be tried, the case should be heard in the UK rather the US.

The three men have said they will appeal against the decision.

The case will now go to the Home Secretary who will decide whether the men should be extradited.

The three men - David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby, all 42 - have all denied colluding with Enron to sell an investment at a knockdown price.

The three no longer work at NatWest having left the company in 2000.

No UK charges

Their defence counsel Alun Jones QC said that the men had contacted The Financial Services Authority, Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Secretary about the case, but none decided to start an investigation in the UK.

Gary Mulgrew
We'll appeal and just hope some common sense breaks out and we can be tried in Britain
Gary Mulgrew
Enron's collapse into bankruptcy in the wake of a false accounting scandal stunned corporate America, uncovering a wave of similar auditing scandals in its wake and prompting a swathe of corporate governance and accounting reforms in the US.

Standing outside Bow Street Magistrates court in London where the hearing took place Mr Bermingham urged the US to reconsider its demands.

He said that "one phone call to the UK is all that's needed" for British authorities to take up the case.

"We will appeal this ruling today, not just for ourselves, but on the basis of the fact that many many other people are likely in the near future to suffer the kind of iniquity and injustice that is today being perpetrated on us by the US government," he added.

"One year ago, we asked the US government to bring charges here in the UK ... We repeat that request of the US government. Bring the action here, now, where it belongs."

'Cynical'

Meanwhile, Mr Jones QC accused the US of "cynically" waiting to bring the case until new UK extradition laws had come into force.

"The US government waited until the new legislation was in force before applying for their extradition, and this deprived them of very basic but important rights: they can't conduct their defence properly," he added.

All of the alleged victims and perpetrators involved in the fraud case are based in the UK.

However, US prosecutors want the men to face trial in Texas, home of energy giant Enron which collapsed three years ago as a result of a major financial scandal.

The men have claimed that if they are extradited and found guilty in the US they could face up to 35 years in jail.

ENRON'S FALL
Oct 2001 Accounts black hole becomes public knowledge
Dec 2001 Enron admits inflating profit, files for bankruptcy
It emerges Enron used a complex web of transactions to hide debt
2002 Criminal inquiry launched
Jan 2004 Ex-finance chief Fastow pleads guilty, accepts 10-year jail term
Feb 2004 Ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling pleads not guilty to fraud and insider trading charges
Jul 04 Ex-chairman Ken Lay indicted

But, all of the defence's arguments against extradition to the US were dismissed by Judge Nicholas Evans.

"There is a good and proper basis for prosecuting them in the US," he told the hearing.

The men had argued that extradition would breach their human rights.

They also claimed that there had been too long a delay in the case and that they would not receive a fair trial in the US.

Finally, the men said they would be unlikely to get bail in the US and so could spend up to two years in a Federal jail preparing their case - and as a result would be unable to get unfettered access to witnesses in the UK.

"We're very disappointed and a wee bit surprised," Mr Mulgrew -whose mother Trish Godman is deputy Speaker of the Scottish Parliament - told the BBC.

"The judge acknowledged the difficulties of preparing for trial in Texas. It just doesn't make any sense... why are we not standing trial in the UK.

"We'll appeal and just hope some common sense breaks out and we can be tried in Britain."

New laws

The extradition comes order comes under new UK legislation, which came into force in January, which was designed to speed up the extradition of suspected terrorists.

Giles Darby
Mr Darby is the third man facing extradition in the Enron case
The trio's lawyer Mark Spragg told BBC News Online they had been targeted "early on" in the Enron scandal to "implicate people further up the chain".

The US Justice Department did not contact the men, he added, but US lawyers suggested that in order for them to get a light sentence they would have to plead guilty to one charge and co-operate by implicating others - which the three refused to do.

Under the act there is no requirement for the US authorities to present a prima facie case, although UK authorities must do so in seeking extraditions from the US.

US prosecutors have accused the men of seven counts of "wire fraud" - illegally gaining money via international banking systems - through the US banking system.

They are each alleged to have made 1.5m ($2.7m) after selling an interest held by a unit of NatWest in an Enron entity at a cheap price and pocketing the difference.

Each indictment carries a maximum of five years, meaning a possible sentence in Texas of 35 years.

The US case against the trio is based on evidence they gave to the UK's finance watchdog, the Financial Services Authority.

If the men are extradited they will have to pay their own legal costs - which reports have put at an estimated $1m to $2m.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
One of the accused bankers reacts to the verdict



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