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Press Release

British Businessman Christopher Tappin Sentenced To Federal Prison For Aiding And Abetting The Illegal Export Of Defense Articles

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas

In federal court in El Paso this morning, 66-year-old British businessman Christopher Tappin of Orpington, Kent, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for attempting to export to Iran a special component of the Hawk Air Defense Missile announced United States Attorney Robert Pitman and Acting Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Dennis Ulrich, El Paso.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge David Briones ordered that Tappin pay an $11,357.14 fine and be placed under supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.

“In this case, Mr. Tappin admitted his role in trying to facilitate the shipment of specialized batteries to Iran. These batteries are used to make Hark missiles operational, and Mr. Tappin admitted that he submitted false shipping documentation to circumvent U.S. export control regulations. Those who violate federal law for monetary gain, and in the process put the national security of the United States and its allies at risk, will face prosecution and punishment for their callous disregard for the public’s safety,” said United States Attorney Robert Pitman.

On November 1, 2012, Tappin appeared in federal court, reversed his original not-guilty plea and admitted culpability in the scheme. Tappin pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles and by doing so, waived his right to appeal his conviction or challenge the sentence handed down in this case.

By pleading guilty, Tappin admitted that from December 2005 to January 2007, he knowingly aided and abetted others, including his Cyprus-based business associate Robert Frederick Gibson and Portland, OR, resident Robert Caldwell in an illegal attempt to export Zinc/Silver Oxide Reserve Batteries to Iran. These particular batteries, a special component of the Hawk Air Defense Missile, are designated as a defense article on the U.S. Munitions List and require a license or written authorization from the U.S. State Department for export from the United States.

According to the factual basis filed in this case, which Tappin admitted was truthful and accurate, Tappin
knowingly violated U.S. law by obtaining the specialized batteries under false pretenses. Tappin engaged in phone and email communications with an undercover federal agent to discuss payment and delivery
arrangements. In October 2006, Tappin wired approximately $25,000 from a London financial institution to a bank account in the United States as payment for five of the specialized batteries. Using false shipping documentation, Tappin arranged for the transfer of the batteries to the United Kingdom without an export license through his specifically designated freight forwarders in violation of export control regulations.

During the investigation, Tappin even agreed to reimburse the undercover agent for $5,000 in fines purportedly being assessed against him by U.S. Customs authorities after they had seized the shipment of batteries.

Tappin, admittedly, also caused Caldwell to travel to San Antonio in January 2007 to take delivery of the
batteries, ensure that they were shipped to him (Tappin) and to pay the undercover agent $5,000 for the current fines. Tappin, in court, acknowledged that his anticipated profit from the transaction was $11,357.14.

“Protecting our national security is one of HSI’s highest priorities,” said Dennis A. Ulrich, acting special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “And this sentence is the result of more than six years of tenacious investigative work by HSI special agents, who were relentless in their efforts to prevent U.S. military products from being illegally exported and falling in the hands of our adversaries.”

In 2007, Gibson and Caldwell were sentenced to 24 months and 20 months, respectively, in federal prison for their roles in the scheme.

U.S. Attorney Pitman also commended HSI for investigating this matter as well as the United States Marshals Service and British authorities for their assistance during the extradition process.

Assistant United States Attorney Greg McDonald prosecuted this case on behalf of the Government.

Updated December 15, 2014