By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - British millionaire Christopher Tappin pleaded guilty in federal court in Texas on Thursday to charges of attempting to sell missile parts to Iran, prosecutors said.
Tappin, 66, from Orpington, Kent, who had previously pleaded not guilty, reversed that stance in federal court in El Paso as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that calls for a sentence of 33 months in prison and a fine of more than $11,000, according to U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman.
Federal prosecutors say Tappin, a retired shipping magnate, and two other men sought to ship zinc/silver oxide batteries for Hawk Air Defense Missiles to Iran via the Netherlands.
One of the middlemen turned out to be an undercover U.S. customs agent.
"Mr. Tappin stated under oath that he was guilty of aiding the attempted export to Iran of sensitive military equipment," Pitman said in a statement. "In so doing, the defendant put at risk the national security of the United States and its allies by trying to sell to Iran the batteries that make the Hawk Missiles operational."
The two other men involved in the scheme, which began in late 2005 and ended with Tappin's arrest in early 2007, have been sentenced to terms of 20 and 24 months in federal prison.
Tappin was extradited to the U.S. earlier this year following a two-year legal battle. He is free on bond pending his sentencing, which is scheduled for January 9.
Prosecutors have said they will not object to Tappin's sentence being served in England so he can be close to his ill wife and other family members. He had faced up to 35 years in prison.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Eric Walsh)