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Guilty Plea in Missile Parts-for-Iran Case

EL PASO (CN) - A British businessman pleaded guilty to buying missile parts from undercover federal agents to sell them to Iran.

Christopher Tappin, 66, of Orpington, Kent, changed his plea from not guilty before U.S. District Judge David Briones on Thursday, federal prosecutors said.

He pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles. He faces up to 33 months in federal prison and more than $11,000 in fines.

Tappin admitted that from December 2005 to January 2007, he knowingly aided and abetted others, including his business associate Robert Frederick Gibson, 57, of Cyprus, and Robert Caldwell, 62, of Portland, Ore., to try to export zinc-silver oxide reserve batteries to Iran.

The components 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.

Tappin communicated by telephone and email with an undercover federal agent to discuss payment and delivery arrangements, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

"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," prosecutors said in the statement. "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."

Tappin even agreed to reimburse the undercover agent $5,000 for fines assessed against him by Customs officials after they had seized the shipment of batteries.

Tappin acknowledged in court that his anticipated profit from the transaction was $11,357.14.

Tappin is free on bond until his Jan. 9, 2013 sentencing.

His cohorts Caldwell and Gibson were sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and 2 years, respectively, in 2007.


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