Judge Denies Bail To British Alleged Arms Dealer

By Salon Staff

Published March 5, 2012 11:27PM (EST)

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A federal judge in West Texas refused bond Monday for a British businessman who is accused of trying to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

Dressed in an orange-red prison jumpsuit and with his hands and feet shackled, Christopher Tappin, 65, huffed in disappointment as federal marshals escorted him out of the federal courtroom in El Paso.

"He honestly believed there was a decent chance he would fly with us to Houston today," attorney Kent Schaffer said.

Judge Robert Castaneda heard the arguments of the government and the defense on Friday and over the weekend pondered his decision on whether to release Tappin.

"I thought about it, I changed my mind on several occasions," Castaneda said before announcing that the defendant would remain in federal custody.

Castaneda agreed that measures like GPS monitoring and being detained at his lawyer's house could be imposed to ensure Tappin is monitored if released. However a discrepancy in his financial statement moved him to think there is flight risk and grant the government's motion to detain.

Schaffer said he would request that financial statement in order to learn what the discrepancy might be. Those statements are prepared by court officials who interview defendants to create a profile that will help the judge better understand the financial status, ties to the community and other relevant information used to decide whether to grant bail.

Tappin's wife, Elaine, called the judge's decision to deny her husband bail "an outrage," saying she was shocked and "deeply disappointed."

"God only knows how he'll bear up," she said. "It's heartbreaking."

Elaine Tappin said her husband doesn't have his passport or access to funds that would help him jump bail.

"He's a man of his word and is certainly not at risk of fleeing - where would he go?" she said Monday. "He's not a danger to anyone — he's a 65-year-old granddad."

Castaneda said the decision was difficult because there are arguments for and against Tappin's release. "My decision might not mean much as each party can appeal," he said.

Schaffer said they will file an appeal as soon as possible and that the matter might be heard in judge David Briones' court in El Paso as early as within two weeks. If Briones denies bail, they could file an appeal with the 5th district court in New Orleans. But he called the appeal with Briones "the last meaningful chance" for Tappin's release.

Tappin is accused of trying to buy batteries for Hawk surface-to-air missiles from undercover American agents with the intention of exporting them to Iran. During Friday's hearing the government said that Tappin provided undercover agents with false documents to deceive authorities and circumvent the requirement for the batteries to be licensed by the government prior to being exported.

Two other men have been convicted to 20 and 24 months in prison for their participation in the case.

Tappin surrendered to U.S. marshals and was escorted to El Paso last week after fighting extradition from the United Kingdom for two years. He is currently being held in the Otero County jail. He has asked to be held in solitary confinement. Castaneda acknowledged that having Tappin at that detention center would pose a problem to prepare his defense.

"How do you prepare for a trial when you have thousands of documents and you are holding them to a window in a county jail to show them to your client?," Schaffer said after the hearing.

Tappin is charged with conspiracy to illegally export defense articles, aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles and conspiracy to conduct illegal financial transactions. If convicted, Tappin faces up to five years in federal prison on the first charge; up to 10 years for the second; and up to 20 years in federal prison for the last of the counts.

There is no date set for the trial.

Salon Staff

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