A British man has appeared in court in London, accused of trying to sell missile parts to Iran in breach of international sanctions. Wealthy golf club president Christopher Tappin denies the charge and is fighting an extradition request from the United States, where he could face a 35-year prison sentence if found guilty.
The case has highlighted the tightening of sanctions against Tehran - and the problems that foreign businesses face in trying to do business in Iran.
Tappin says he was the victim of entrapment by U.S. customs officials -- and emerged from the hearing confident that the extradition request would be denied. "We are very against the way that the U.S. is conducting itself in prosecuting this case and the clear indication is that things are moving in our direction," he said.
Tappin denies he attempted to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles, which were allegedly to be shipped from the U.S. to Tehran. The American clients he was dealing with were in fact undercover Customs Enforcement agents.
In July of this year, President Obama signed a bill enacting sanctions against the export of petroleum products to Iran, together with measures preventing banks from providing services to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. "I'm pleased to sign into law the toughest sanctions against Iran ever passed by the United States Congress," the president said.
The United Nations followed with sanctions targeting Iran's armed forces and nuclear-related industries. It's these laws that Christopher Tappin is accused of breaking.
Nigel Kushner of the London law firm Whale Rock advises clients who want to do business in Iran on how to comply with the sanctions. He says the regulations are hugely complex. "There are so many different layers of sanctions which means that companies are often in the dark and don't even realize that what they're doing is wrong. The U.S. authorities came out with some far-reaching sanctions which have an effect on non-U.S. persons, so what they're saying to the rest of the world is, 'You want to do business with Iran? Then you won't be doing business in the U.S,'" he said.
The U.S. government says the sanctions are a vital tool in trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons - though Tehran denies it is doing so.
Outside the courthouse in London, the human rights group "Liberty" organized a protest in support of Tappin. The group's director of policy, Isabella Sankey, claims the extradition agreements between the U.S. and the United Kingdom are being misused.
"Cases like this definitely highlight how blanket rules that were brought in post-9/11, supposedly to deal with terror suspects and allow them to be transferred easily between the U.S. and the U.K., are actually so broad and lack so many fundamental safeguards that many of these smaller allegations and cases are being swept up along with what this law was originally intended to deal with," she said.
Tappin will be back in court in November to continue his fight against extradition to the U.S.
U.S. authorities say they will continue to pursue anyone they believe is breaking the sanctions against Iran.