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July 12, 2006

UK Votes to Scrap US Extradition Pact

U.K. votes to scrap U.S. extradition pact

LONDON, July 12 (UPI) -- Britain's Parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to scrap a U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty which critics say exposes British citizens to injustice.

A highly unusual emergency debate was prompted by the case of the so-called NatWest Three, to be extradited to the United States Thursday to face fraud charges related to the collapse of the energy giant Enron.

The opposition Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats say the 2003 treaty under which the men are to be extradited is unfairly tilted in favor of the United States, which no longer has to produce proof of a case in order to obtain extraditions. Because the U.S. Senate has so far resisted ratifying the treaty, British authorities are still required to provide such evidence when seeking extraditions from the United States.

The vote -- by 246 to 4 -- was largely symbolic and will not prevent the extradition of the NatWest Three. However it will put pressure on the government to take action, either by persuading the United States to ratify the treaty or by suspending it.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman Nick Clegg said the government had signed "a lopsided treaty which short-changes the interests of British citizens and those under our judicial protection."

But Prime Minister Tony Blair denied this, saying that the levels of protection afforded to both U.S. and U.K. citizens was "roughly analogous."

U.S. authorities claim that David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby advised the U.K. banking firm NatWest to sell part of an Enron company for less than it was worth. The trio allegedly then left NatWest, bought into the firm themselves and sold it for a profit of around $8.1 million. However the men, who deny the charges, note that U.K. authorities investigated the case and decided to take no action. Defense lawyers also argue that the alleged crime took place entirely on British soil and that the U.S. connection is tenuous.

The Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland is due to fly to Washington to urge the Senate to ratify the treaty.

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