Enron case: UK bankers face trial
3 to appeal UK judge's ruling they can be extradited
LONDON, England -- Three British bankers accused of a multi-million pound fraud involving Enron officials should be tried in the United States, a court has ruled.
The three men claimed the decision was a violation of their "rights as Englishmen" to be tried by a jury of their peers and said they would appeal Friday's ruling.
In a hearing at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London, District Judge Nicholas Evans ruled there was a "good and proper basis for prosecuting them in the U.S." and that extradition did not violate their human rights.
The three -- David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew -- have argued they could face bankruptcy and up to 35 years in prison if extradited and found guilty.
They have argued they would have to pay their own legal costs, estimated at $1 million to $2 million, and would likely not be granted bail.
Bermingham said the three would appeal Friday's ruling. The bankers have accused the U.S. government of exploiting new extradition legislation which was intended to deal with terrorist suspects.
"We will appeal against the judgment, not just for ourselves but on the basis of the fact that many, many people are likely in the near future to suffer the inequity and injustice that is today being perpetrated against us by the U.S. government," he told reporters outside the court.
The judge's recommendation goes to British Home Secretary David Blunkett, and the bankers will have six weeks to appeal.
Blunkett can only block their extradition on three grounds -- if they were to face the death penalty, if they had already been extradited to the UK from another country, or if they were likely to face further charges once in the United States.
None of the grounds is believed to apply.
If Blunkett authorizes their extradition, the men will have 14 days to lodge a further appeal to Britain's High Court.
The bankers argue that before the Extradition Act came into force in January this year, Blunkett could have blocked their extradition more easily if he felt it was "unfair."
They also argue that the United States waited for the legislation to come into force before proceeding.
The three have been fighting extradition over allegations they conspired with Enron executives, including former finance chief Andrew Fastow, over the sale of a stake in an Enron entity in 2000.
U.S. prosecutors have accused the three of seven counts of wire fraud through the U.S. banking system and want to try them in Houston, Texas, home of the failed energy giant Enron.
The men, who deny the allegations, want their case heard in Britain and have said they are willing to comply with any investigations.
They are each alleged to have made £1.5 million ($2.7 million) after selling an interest held by Greenwich NatWest, a unit of NatWest, in an Enron entity at a cheap price and pocketing the difference.
The U.S. case against them is based on information they gave to Britain's financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, when the Enron scandal emerged.
Following Friday's decision, Bermingham said: "All three of us are British, we are accused of defrauding a British bank, the alleged misconduct took place mostly in the UK, and most of the witnesses that we would need to call in order to have a fair trial are here.
"Despite all of this, the court has said that we should stand trial in Texas.
"It puts us at a massive and unfair disadvantage and deprives us of the basic rights of British people to be tried by their peers in Britain."
Bermingham said the men had asked the U.S. government to bring the charges in the UK a year ago.
"To do that would take one phone call to the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service and they could bring upon us the might of the UK legal system," he said.
"We repeat that request to the U.S. government -- bring the action here ... where it belongs."