- Tuesday, 27 November 2012 13:00
A high court judge has blocked the extradition to the US of a former Iranian ambassador who was the target of an American sting operation in London.
Nosratollah Tajik, 59, was arrested in London in 2006 pending his extradition on charges of conspiring to export US defence night-vision weapons sights to Iran without a licence.
Tajik, an ex-Iranian ambassador to Jordan who is an honorary fellow of Durham University and lives in the north-east, was arrested when agents of the US department of homeland security posed as arms dealers selling the night-vision goggles.
Lord Justice Moses however ordered on Tuesday that Tajik should be discharged after more than six years of delays in the extradition process.
Unusually in his case the source of the delays was not the court but initially the home secretary and then the American authorities. The high court first rejected his appeal against extradition on grounds of ill-health in 2008, but then followed a three-and-a-half-year delay before the home secretary decided that he should be sent to the United States to stand trial in Illinois.
But at the same time the Home Office sought to persuade the Americans that they should withdraw the extradition on the curious grounds that it could damage Britain's relations with Iran and endanger the safety of British embassy staff in Tehran.
"The reason was explained by a Home Office official," said Moses in his summary of the case. "His case was a 'prominent feature of the UK's bilateral relationship with Iran since his arrest in October 2006 and has the potential to cause significant disruption to that relationship'. The UK was concerned as to the security of the British embassy in Tehran and the safety of staff who worked there in the light of fears as to the reaction in Tehran should Mr Tajik be extradited to the USA."
But there was no response from the Americans despite repeated requests from the Home Office and the Foreign Office, which repeatedly raised the Tajik case.
"It was only in late September 2011 that the secretary of state was informed that the United States did not intend to withdraw the … request for Mr Tajik's extradition," said the ruling.
The high court judge said he could only conclude that the Americans had arrogated to themselves the time for choosing when he should be extradited and face trial without putting forward any justification for their decision. He said that the extradition laws, which require the speedy surrender of those accused, did not allow them to do this.
"In the absence of any justification offered by the requesting state, the US, the court could not find there was reasonable cause for the delay. It ordered Mr Tajik's discharge."
It remains open to the Americans and the Home Office to take the case to the supreme court. But until that happens the former high-ranking Iranian diplomat will be free.