Court backs U.S. "white collar" crime extradition

LONDON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court backed a U.S. extradition request in a price-fixing case on Wednesday, a step lawyers say will encourage a more aggressive American crackdown on cross-border financial crime. The court dismissed an appeal by Ian Norris against a U.S. government request for him to be tried in the United States for obstruction of justice in relation to an alleged price-fixing case.

Norris had argued that being sent to face trial and possible imprisonment in the United States would cause disproportionate damage to his and his wife’s physical and mental health.

The court said public interest outweighed such concerns.

“There is nothing about the facts of this case that distinguishes it significantly from most cases of extradition, or indeed from most cases of white collar crime,” it said.

White & Case, representing Norris, is likely to appeal at the European Court of Human Rights. The law firm said Britain’s extradition agreement with the United States stripped citizens of fundamental protections.

“Today we see the results of that as a 67-year-old man, in poor health, is likely to be extradited to the United States for activities said to have taken place in the UK and for which no substantive evidence has ever been considered in the UK courts,” said Alistair Graham, a partner at White & Case.

The ruling will have ramifications for trans-atlantic regulatory investigations, lawyers said.

“The U.S. prosecutors are using increasingly aggressive tactics in corruption prosecutions and in relation to fraud and insider trading in the financial services sector,” said Angela Hayes, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown in London.

“We can expect that the Norris decision will herald an increased willingness of the U.S. authorities to seek extradition of senior individuals caught up in these prosecutions.”

Robert Wardle, a consultant at law firm DLA Piper and former director of the UK Serious Fraud Office, said the ruling reflected how complex and cross-border financial crime can affect a country even if committed beyond its borders.

“It’s not only the American position but also in Europe with the European Arrest Warrant that we are likely to see more and more requests for people,” Wardle said.

The House of Lords ruled in 2008 that Norris could not be extradited to the United States for the charge of price fixing as this was not an extraditable crime under UK law when it was committed.

A district judge later ruled that Norris could be extradited for the remaining obstruction of justice charge, the appeal against which was dismissed on Wednesday by the Supreme Court.

Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Robin Pomeroy