Byline: ANDREW GILLIGAN
WITH its eight restaurants, its "adult entertainment nites" and artificial beach, the Green Valley Ranch Resort and Spa, Las Vegas, is half a world in distance and several galaxies in style away from low-key London courtrooms.
But it was an event held here, amid the Celine Dion tribute singers, that offered the best insight yet into the extraordinary, testosteronecharged mindset that could see dozens of British executives shipped off without prima facie evidence to spend years behind bars in the US. It also, in passing, raised serious questions about the good faith of the British Government.
In March this year, the American Bar Association was holding its annual symposium on white-collar crime. The star speaker was Scott Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the US Department of Justice. The transcript of the event has been passed to the Evening Standard.
And the message to British bosses could not have been clearer.
America, said Hammond, was "turning up the heat on foreign nationals". In the words of another participant, Joe Linklater: "You can't hunker down in your manor house in rural England." It was, boasted Hammond, a "blockbuster development". Elliot Ness, scourge of the Chicago mob, had nothing on these guys.
The development Hammond was talking about is a hugely controversial 2003 extradition treaty between Britain and the US.
It was negotiated in total secrecy, and the first that Parliament or the public knew it even existed was on the day it was signed. Remarkably, the actual text of the treaty was not released for a further two months.
It brought America within the scope of the equally controversial Extradition Act passed the same year, allowing extradition effectively on demand and abolishing the need by the US to present prima facie evidence against the accused. But it's a one-way street: the requirement to produce evidence remains if Britain should want to extradite an American. The US courts and constitution wouldn't allow it any other way.
The Las Vegas transcript shows the US authorities almost incredulous at quite how far Britain has bent to accommodate their demands. "Hearsay affidavit by the prosecutor is enough-we don't even have to provide witness affidavits," marvelled Hammond.
"Appeal rights have been curtailed.
From a resource perspective, it is nothing. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the bang for the buck we are getting from this."
Tony Blair repeatedly justified fast-track extradition on the grounds of fighting terrorism. Two weeks after 11 September, calling it one of the "basic things we need to do to protect the security of our own citizens", he said: "I hope in this new situation people realise we have got to act." But the main targets have not been alleged terrorists, who number just three of the 21 British citizens being sought by America. The main targets have been businessmen.
David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby, known as the NatWest Three, are fighting extradition on charges of fraud. Their alleged crimes took place almost entirely on British soil and against a British victim. Ian Norris, the former chief executive of engineering firm Morgan Crucible, is battling extradition on charges of pricefixing - which wasn't actually an offence in Britain at the time.
During the passage of the Extradition Bill, Home Office Minister Caroline Flint openly scorned Press predictions that such a thing could happen.
"An article in today's Financial Times was headlined 'Price-fixing suspects risk extradition to US for trial'," she told MPs on the committee considering the Bill.
"My understanding is that the offence would have to be an offence in both countries. We do not have such a range of offences involving financial crime.
The cases mentioned by the Financial Times - such as price-fixing-would not apply. …