By Jim Forsyth and David Crowder
SAN ANTONIO/EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) - A British businessman was sentenced in Texas on Wednesday to nearly three years in prison for selling weapons parts to Iran in violation of international sanctions.
Christopher Tappin, 66, was sentenced to 33 months in a federal prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of aiding the illegal export of defense articles from 2005 to 2007. The sentence was the result of a plea agreement that prohibits Tappin from appealing his conviction or his sentence.
That agreement could allow Tappin, the owner of a shipping company, to serve part of his sentence in Britain.
"I look forward to returning home and being near my friends and family, especially my sick wife," Tappin told reporters after the sentencing in El Paso, Texas.
The wealthy businessman from Kent was convicted of trying to sell components for Hawk Air Defense Missile Systems to Iran. Prosecutors said that if the scheme had succeeded, Tappin stood to collect a relatively modest profit of $11,000.
The six-year-long saga began when U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents learned of a plot to use phony freight invoices and complicated cash transfers to attempt to send zinc/silver oxide reserve batteries for the weapons systems to Iran. Exporting the batteries from the United States requires a license or written authorization from the U.S. State Department.
"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," U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said following the sentencing.
Tappin was also ordered on Wednesday to pay a fine of $11,357.
He spent two years fighting extradition from Britain to the United States until he exhausted his appeals. Since his extradition in February 2012 to face the charges, he has been in and out of custody.
Two associates in the plot were also arrested and have been sentenced to prison terms of 20 months and 24 months.
(Additional reporting by Aron Ranen; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Greg McCune and Eric Walsh)