Commons debates NatWest Three

19-07-2006

Commons debates NatWest Three
MPs have held an emergency debate questioning the legislation under which three NatWest bankers will be extradited to the US on fraud charges tomorrow.

Much of the debate centred around disputes over whether or not the treaty signed into UK law as the Extradition Act 2003 is sufficiently equitable in terms of "parity" and "reciprocity" over the guidelines governing in what circumstances suspected criminals are to be extradited.

Whereas US citizens can only be sent to the UK when British police have fulfilled their requirements of probable cause, UK citizens being sent to the US are not required to have evidence of a prima facie case.

Today's debate comes amid growing political pressure on the government to hear the case of the NatWest Three in Britain. David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby are alleged to have sold an Enron-related company for less than it was worth in Britain during the collapse of the US oil giant.

In parliament, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Nick Clegg described the extradition treaty as "unfair" and "imbalanced", citing its unequal nature as being responsible for "the mess we now find ourselves in".

Those responsible for maintaining the present extradition treaty, which has yet to be ratified by the US Senate but is already operationally effective, have responded to these claims by arguing that present arrangements are not unfair.

Mike O'Brien, the solicitor-general, responded to Mr Clegg's allegations by saying that "this is not a one-sided act".

"You cannot have exact reciprocity between two different legal systems but it is broadly similar and sufficiently similar to be as good as we are ever likely to get in terms of a level of equality between the tests in the two countries," he told the Commons.

Mr O'Brien's comments have been echoed by senior government officials from both sides of the Atlantic. Robert Tuttle, US ambassador to the UK, told the BBC earlier today that "under the Extradition Act that [the UK] passed in 2003, the evidentiary standards for extradition are roughly the same between our two countries".

During prime minister's question time, Tony Blair responded to questioning by Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell that any reversing of the treaty "would not be taking away special privileges from America but actually imposing special detriments to America and that cannot be right".

Gareth Crossman, policy director at Liberty, agreed with Mr Blair. He told the BBC that "nobody should be taken out of the UK unless there is some evidence on which they can be convicted," before warning that the focus on reciprocity was misguided as it would only be met by accusations of "America-bashing".

Today's debate will not directly help the fate of the NatWest Three, who are due to fly to the US tomorrow from Gatwick airport for a two-week sojourn in Texan jails.

But it could prompt a renewal of the legislation, following last night's vote by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers against settling future extradition cases until the US Senate has ratified the current extradition treaty.

Related categories: Management / Business, Banking / Finance, International / Overseas.


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