RUTH SUNDERLAND: If the UK really wants to be a sovereign nation in control of our destiny after Brexit, the extradition of individuals such as Mike Lynch to the US cannot be countenanced
Why the It’s hard to have sympathy with a man who has a £470m fortune, a £6m Georgian manor and a townhouse in London.
Dr Mike Lynch, who is the 54-year-old founder of former FTSE 100 tech company Autonomy, wouldn’t want any.
What he does want and deserve, though, is a fair deal from our extradition arrangements with the US – and, as things stand, that is in serious doubt.
A fair deal?: Mike Lynch is now fighting the prospect of extradition to the US to stand trial there
Dr Lynch is one of this country’s few superstar tech entrepreneurs. Before his downfall he was often referred to as Britain’s answer to Bill Gates. The company he set up, Autonomy, was a raging success, growing to become our largest and most successful software business.
It all went horribly wrong when he sold the firm for £7 billion in 2011 to American giant Hewlett Packard (HP). That transaction unravelled in acrimony and Dr Lynch was accused of having cooked the books.
He is now fighting the prospect of extradition to the US to stand trial there.
If the UK really wants to be a sovereign nation in control of our own destiny after Brexit, this cannot be countenanced. Regardless of Dr Lynch’s guilt or innocence, what is at stake here is a point of principle.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, the two nations signed a new treaty.
David Davis, the Conservative MP, is now campaigning for it to be ripped up. As he points out, it was negotiated in secret, debated in haste, and enacted in the face of objections from all sides of the House.
Although ostensibly intended to enable the US to extradite terror suspects, the treaty has in reality been used primarily against British, white-collar suspects. It is a totally unbalanced and one-sided arrangement. The Americans, if they want to extradite a British subject, need only state that they have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
If, on the other hand, we wish to extradite an American, we must demonstrate ‘probable cause’, a higher burden of proof, and then the US secretary of state may turn down the request anyway.
Just how willing they are to hand over their citizens to us can be seen from the case of Anne Sacoolas, who fled Britain after allegedly killing 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a car crash.
What are the chances, if the boot were on the other foot, of the UK being able to force an American CEO to face the courts here? Close to zero.
I recall in 2011 the refusal of Irene Rosenfeld, then the chief executive of Kraft, to appear in front of MPs and take their questions, after she had taken over the much-loved British chocolate firm Cadbury. Her contempt shows the low regard with which this country’s institutions are held in corporate America. Since 2007, the US has extradited 135 Brits of whom 99 were accused of non-violent crimes, but the Americans have only handed over 11 to the UK.
This is patently unfair. And Dr Lynch, if his fight against extradition fails, would find a system stacked against him. Thousands of miles from family and friends, he could face a long period on bail or in a US prison pre-trial. Most cases there – around 97 per cent – are settled by plea bargains, with prosecutors dangling the threat of a long prison sentence over the heads of the accused.
We are perfectly capable of dealing with Dr Lynch here. He has been investigated by the Serious Fraud Office already which found there was no case for prosecuting him. A civil case against him brought by HP in the courts here has just ended and he awaits judgment.
Some argue we are far too weak in pursuing and punishing corporate crime in this country and that we should leave the likes of Dr Lynch to their fate. But the solution to that is to beef up our own system, not to make ourselves subservient to the US and sell our fellow citizens down the river.